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I recently started a pet accessory business and wanted to use some pictures of my dogs that had been given to me as a Xmas gift last year.

The person who took the photos says they own the copyright and is asking me to give them credit or remove the pictures from my website. Do they own the copyright and what should I do?

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    Hey, props to you for asking vs just doing first! Photographers appreciate it! Find a photographer who might like some of your accessories, maybe a barter is possible! – dpollitt Nov 8 '15 at 16:35
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    What do you have against giving credit? It seems quite kind of them to let you continue to use the photos for free if you merely give credit. To me I'm wondering why complicate this matter when it seems like continuing to use the photos but giving credit is actually not going to be much of a problem? – thomasrutter Nov 8 '15 at 23:14
  • Unless you now have a hate-hate relationship it seems a very little thing to give photo credits, regardless of whether she is acting unreasonably in seeking to retract a "my word is my bond" agreement. This only seems unreasonable if the cost to you of giving way to what may be an unreasonable demand is greater than the gains of "walking the second mile". – Russell McMahon Nov 8 '15 at 23:42
  • Thanks for the great legal advice. I really appreciate it! To some others- As for the reasons why I do not want her name anywhere on my site is none of your concern. I asked for legal advice and that is what I was looking for. Not to be criticized on why. – Julie Nov 10 '15 at 4:31
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    Why would you knowingly involve your business in a controversy? Spend a few hundred bucks on a commercial photographer and get photos that are 100% yours to do with as you please. – Caleb Nov 10 '15 at 7:06
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She had given me verbal permission to use the photos for whatever I wanted, but now that we aren't close anymore, she has decided otherwise.

This comment makes the situation a bit more hairy legal-wise. The fact is that the copyright of a photograph always belongs to the photographer regardless of the photo's subject, apart from some edge cases that don't apply here (e.g. a photograph of another photograph or painting), unless the photographer explicitly agrees or has agreed otherwise.

What makes this tricky is that the photographer gave you permission to use the photographs as you see fit, but revoked it later. Owning the copyright doesn't let one retract usage permissions at will.

Whether she is legally allowed to revoke the permission depends on your jurisdiction, and if you were to go to court, the result would probably depend on the judge and how good the lawyers are in presenting the matter. Since there's no written contract, she could also deny ever giving you a do-what-you-want license.

That said, the legality of the matter is mostly irrelevant. Neither of you are unlikely to go to court over a trivial matter like this. What it comes down to is ethics and practicalities: Would it be ethically correct to use the photos against the photographer's wishes? Is it ethically correct for the photographer to revoke the permission she has already granted?

Since you seem to be unwilling to even mention the photographer's name on your web site (otherwise you wouldn't be asking the question), I'm assuming there's quite a lot of bad blood between the two of you. If you do use the photos against her will, regardless of whether it's legally or ethically allowed, how much would it make the situation worse?

In practice I would suggest not to escalate the situation any further and just either credit her on the web site as she wishes, get someone else take photos of the dogs, or spend a couple of dollars on stock photography.

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    +1. Going the legal route usually incurs massive cost on the relationship side. Just because it is legal doesn't mean it is good :) – Nelson Nov 9 '15 at 2:38
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    While not directly relevant since OP seems to be from the US. Moral rights, like the right of attribution, are seperate from copyright. In some countries the former are non-transferable. – Taemyr Nov 9 '15 at 9:10
  • I thank you so much for being professional and for giving me the advice I was looking for. I decided to take some new pics to use instead. I did not know anything about the legal aspect before speaking with you so that was why I asked the question in the first place. I thank you very much for not criticizing me as to why I didn't want the girls name on my site and I thank you for explaining to me the legality if I were to use them. Again thank you! – Julie Nov 10 '15 at 5:16
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Assuming you are in the United States, the photographer owns all rights to images they take unless they were done under a contract that assigns those rights to someone else or under a work-for-hire agreement. It doesn't sound like in this case there was any written agreement or that the person who took the photos was your employee with the specific job of taking photos for you at the time the images were created.

If you use any images without permission of the copyright holder you could be liable for damages if the owner of the images chooses to sue you. If the owner has registered the images with the U.S. copyright office you could also be liable for punitive damages.

  • Thank you for your fast response! Yes in the US. It was a friend at the time who took the pics of my dogs. I gave her a nice Xmas gift and so she offered to come to my house to take pictures of my dogs. (She dabled in photography as a hobby). So there was not a contract given. I'm guessing the only thing I can do is take them down, or give her photo credit for the 2 pics. – Julie Nov 8 '15 at 11:10
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    giving credit does not solve the issue. a written contractual agreement giving you rights to use them this way is what you need. – Skaperen Nov 8 '15 at 12:35
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    Written contract is nice to have if you think you may get sued, but not mandatory. Verbal contracts are technically valid too but just hard to prove in court. Think Hoefler&Co vs Frere-Jones. It sounds like this is a "friend", albeit not a close friend. How likely is this really to go to court? Is it a particularly litigious friend? I can't help but feel most people are over-complicating this and just assuming the friend is going to sue. Copyright is a civil law, so you're not in trouble unless the other party decides to take legal action. – thomasrutter Nov 8 '15 at 23:30
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    And this specific situation looks to me like the photographer is an ex-friend who has had a falling out with the OP. – Michael C Nov 8 '15 at 23:58
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    @Skaperen - the author specifically asked for credit or removal of their image from the website. So, to satisfy their terms a credit would be fine and the email/communications logged would be 'good enough' contractually in most jurisdictions. – James Snell Nov 9 '15 at 18:54
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They took the pictures and without any kind of assignment or agreement otherwise they own the copyright - that is the right to say who may and may not reproduce those images.

In this situation, clearly they're a friend of yours to be giving you gifts so there should be no reason why you wouldn't at very least put on your site who took the images and a link back to their website/social media page if that's all they're asking - it's not like that will cost you anything...

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    She was a good friend at the time, yes. I had given her a nice Xmas gift and in return she offered to take photos of my dogs for me. She had given me verbal permission to use the photos for whatever I wanted, but now that we aren't close anymore, she has decided otherwise. Thank you for your comment. Very much appreciated – Julie Nov 8 '15 at 11:13
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    If she took the photos specifically for you then that is work done under contract regardless of whether there was payment and the rights should already belong to you not her. Proving it, if it was all verbal, is another matter entirely. – JamesRyan Nov 9 '15 at 11:16
  • @JamesRyan in some/many/most jurisdictions a binding contract cannot exist without payment in some form - the permissible forms are very broad and go way beyond money, but there has to be some kind of exchange of value for a contract to exist. – Nigel Harper Nov 9 '15 at 13:31
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    @JamesRyan I'd say that was questionable and depends on the sequence of events. If the initial gift was genuine and given without expectation of reward then the fact that the recipient was moved to offer their own gift in return does not make this exchange of gifts into a legal contract. – Nigel Harper Nov 10 '15 at 15:20
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    Pics are no longer being used. That way i don't have to worry about anything. Thank you everyone! – Julie Nov 10 '15 at 18:01

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