I'm creating a international portal about celebrities.

  1. Where from can I get photos of celebrities without breaking copyright law?
  2. Is there a difference between publishing a photo of celebrity and a normal person, assuming I don't have written permission of any of them?
  3. If I use photography of Steve Jobs, and modify it, adding horns and describing him as evil, can he sue me? And what if I make it on a humorous page?

Of course I know I can ask a lawyer, but I'm not interested in local law, but in international rules.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Laws are different in each country, and can differ even within a country. Where are you located? Where will the servers be located? From where will the portal be accessed? You should also read photo.stackexchange.com/questions/1736/… and photo.stackexchange.com/questions/277/… ; there may be other relevant questions here as well. \$\endgroup\$
    – user2910
    Commented Feb 2, 2011 at 17:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think this is pretty borderline as phrased. It's not about taking photographs, and although part 3 covers photo-manipulation, it's not really a photo-editing question but one about adding "humorous" captions. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Feb 2, 2011 at 20:08

4 Answers 4


In general, the copyright is held by the photographer taking the photo (with a few minor exceptions, such as if they've a contract which transfers the rights to another person, such as their employer).

The rights holder may choose to licence their work to you, either in exchange for a fee (something like a stock image library) or sometimes without a fee (such as projects like Wikimedia Commons). Irrespective of whether a fee is paid or not, there may be further conditions attached to the licence, and to pick on the Image of the Day on wikimedia Commons at time of writing, it is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license -- in lay terms, this means that you can use the image without paying royalty as long as you attribute the original creator, and any derivative works are also licenced on the same terms.

Over and above this, there are is the concept of fair use use which can allow you to use something that is otherwise copyrighted, and you should consult your local, friendly lawyer to understand what classifies as fair usage in your jurisdiction; my basic understanding allows fair usage to include (say) a photo of a book cover (a copyrighted artwork) if you're using it in a context of a book review, or in an online sales situation, for example. Some jurisdictions allow for satirical use, although that's more about infringing trade marks.

It is key to remember that not having to pay a royalty does not mean there are no restrictions, and also that copyright is implicit, so you should seek a licence to use content that you did not create; If you forget this key principle, you may end up in court.


I know this probably isn't the answer you're looking for, but you should really consider consulting a lawyer.

  • \$\begingroup\$ The question is valid and on topic. You should always take answers with a grain of salt, be it legal questions or technical ones. No special treatment for legal related questions. \$\endgroup\$
    – Guillaume
    Commented Feb 2, 2011 at 11:44
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ How can an answer that basically tells you nothing at all can be on the top of the list ? Please ... \$\endgroup\$
    – Guillaume
    Commented Feb 2, 2011 at 15:59
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @Guillaume the question is basically, "what can I legally do?" The only proper answer to that is, "get legal advice from your lawyer." None of the advice on this page is legal advice (and it sounds to me like the OP is going to get into legal trouble if they blunder ahead with this plan without getting advice from their lawyer first); other answers may help the OP come up with a list of questions to ask their lawyer, but the number one thing they need to do is consult a lawyer. \$\endgroup\$
    – user2910
    Commented Feb 2, 2011 at 17:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ You could say the same for any kind of question. There is a risk that the answer will be wrong. If you follow advices on this site, there is a chance that you will miss great pictures. I'm just tired of legal questions being treated differently. But this discussion should probably continue on meta.photo.stackexchange.com and not here. \$\endgroup\$
    – Guillaume
    Commented Feb 3, 2011 at 6:09
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ The "Should we give legal advice" conversation can continue here : meta.photo.stackexchange.com/questions/719/… \$\endgroup\$
    – Guillaume
    Commented Feb 3, 2011 at 12:47

Rowland covers the ground very well on the issue of copyright and usage, but in terms your other two questions...

Public figures in many jurisdictions are a little easier to deal with in terms of the use of their image when taken in a public place. Most notably, a model release is not specifically required for many usages (though, be careful, not all usages) and you can use the photographs where, at least, it's not direct product/service advertising. So, in the case of your portal, I wouldn't expect you would have direct issues in that regard, especially if it's an image you took.

Altering the appearance of person won't necessarily run the risk of being sued, it's usually very contextual as to your risk there. This is done quite a bit, the well-known tech site Slashdot does this, even has a Bill Gates done up to look like a Borg. It's clearly parody and so, while Bill might not really like it (no idea, it may make him laugh), there's probably very little he can do.

Nevertheless, the general advice of consulting a lawyer when dealing with any of this is very relevant. It also gets a lot easier if the images are your own.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Note, too, that images of people appearing "in character" may be subject to trademark restrictions as well. Miley Cyrus may always have been fair game, but Hannah Montana would have gotten you in a tight spot with Disney. \$\endgroup\$
    – user2719
    Commented Feb 4, 2011 at 4:33

In general, there are 2 types of licensed photos, which follow very different rules. What kind of a website that you will make will change what kind of a license you need. Specifically, the two types are editorials and Commercial. Let me break them down a bit.

Editorial- These are for use in a publication of a newspaper or similar field, but they must not be advertising a product or anything similar! They must be taken in an area that is reasonable to obtain a picture, ie, you can't photograph a celebrity in their home and use it, but if they are walking in a mall, you may.

Commercial- These can be used in endorsements, or really for just about anything.

If I were you, I would look into one of the stock photo agencies. Take a look at my profile, or look here for some agencies.


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