I've recently started a creative photography mounting and framing hobby.

I own some really nice physical photograph prints of various people and places that I purchased over the years. These include things a nature scene in Wyoming, a photograph of The Bean in Chicago's Millennium Park, and a photograph of Kobe Bryant doing a slam dunk. All the photographs are physical prints that I purchased from the legal owner / licensed printer. I am not doing any actual printing myself here.

As part of my hobby, I like to create frames that fit the photo print and I consider it an extension or addition of/to the art-work that is the printed photograph.

I was recently asked by a neighbor if I would sell one of these works. I let him have it at no cost but this got me thinking -- would it be legal for me to sell (re-sell) these framed prints online? I do not have any right to reproduce the images, but I do own the prints.

I live in the USA so USA law should apply.

Please keep in mind, the mounting and framing I do is substantial and inseparable from the original item. I consider it to be a new, greater piece of art. It is no longer the same piece when I resell it.

2 Answers 2


Yes, this is legal under the doctrine of first sale. In general, under the law, distribution is an exclusive right of the copyright holder. However, this is a specific exception, where "the owner of a particular copy [...] is entitled, without the authority of the copyright owner, to sell or otherwise dispose of the possession of that copy".

So, you are in the clear reselling photographic imprints you've purchased — including making a business of it.

However, I think your last idea (that your framing creates a new piece of art) is actually possibly problematic, because that's fundamentally a derivative work — another concept in copyright where the copyright holder has an exclusive right. The Wikipedia article covers a case where mounting artwork purchased on notecards onto ceramic tiles and selling the result was not found to be permitted under the doctrine of first sale — the exclusive right to create derivatives was found to be more important. But this would only apply if the result really is a derivative — I don't think normal framing is typically considered to create one.

  • I'm curious about the downvote here. Is there anything in particular which is inaccurate?
    – mattdm
    May 22, 2015 at 15:30
  • Thank you for the answer. I think that what I am doing might be considered more of a derivative work so I think I'll have to limit anything commercial with prints I don't actually own. On the bright side, I've got some good motivation to go shoot more myself so I don't have to worry about violating someone's rights to derivative works.
    – user35614
    May 22, 2015 at 17:45
  • To CYA, make the invoice that sells the frame and work of mounting, nevermind that you already had the print rather than the customer bringing it to you.
    – JDługosz
    May 25, 2015 at 5:21

I'll start with "I'm not a lawyer"!!!

But from my understanding, yes you can.

Because: You purchased a single print, and are only looking to sell this on. Therefore you are not in breach of copyright.

(Unless there were special terms attached to the original sale to you)

It it akin to buying a painting, sculpture etc, and selling it some time later (not commercially).

  • Voting down because of the "(not commercially)" parenthetical. That's not correct.
    – mattdm
    May 22, 2015 at 14:24
  • 1
    And, in general, while commercial use is okay here, you might be surprised by limits of "but it's not commercial!" as a defense against copyright infringement in general.
    – mattdm
    May 22, 2015 at 14:24
  • Thanks for your answer. It seems your right about the copyright aspect of it.
    – user35614
    May 22, 2015 at 17:49

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