Image Rights and Permissions

Often clients believe that if they paid for an original piece of art or commissioned a photo shoot, that they own all rights to the resulting images and can use them any way they wish. That is a very risky assumption!

If the buyer reads the fine print, they will often discover that their rights with that image are limited. Sometimes, severely limited.

If you purchase a print (even the original) of an image, that doesn’t give you the right to reproduce it: Not for making copies for others or for resale, or for commercial use (on a wine label or packaging or a website for instance) unless you specifically bought those rights along with it.

Unless addressed in a delineated release of rights document, the right to use an original piece of art beyond the specific print that you purchased remains with the artist. That artist may then sell those rights separately to someone else or make and sell copies (prints) of their work.

With photography, every photographer handles the sale or licensing of their images differently. Tell the photographer what rights you need BEFORE you hire them – and make sure that you get the terms of the license in writing. Practically, if it isn’t in writing, it doesn’t exist.

The same is true for any image. The law says that in the absence of an agreement otherwise, artwork is the property of the artist or creative firm that created it. We (Sara Nelson Design) usually grant outright ownership (contingent upon payment in full), of all rights for all uses of logos and wine labels. There are limitations to what we can legally sell, however. For instance, we can’t convey ownership of licensed elements such as stock imagery or WordPress themes because they are not ours to sell.

If you provide your own fine art or photography for a design project, we ask for a release from the creator, or a signed Project Agreement that states that you guarantee you have obtained the needed rights and permissions. If there is any doubt, we’ll ask for a copy of the license under which you acquired it. We’re not being jerks; we’re covering our collective backsides – and yours.

If you own a piece or property or website that violates a copyright, it becomes an expensive nightmare very quickly. Pleading “it was my web designer who did it, I didn’t know” won’t get you out from under the legal responsibility.

Note: There are scammers who will claim that they own photos on your website and demand to be paid, but that’s a different can of worms for a different blog post.

Do yourself a huge favor; get a release of rights in writing for every image (stock or custom) in your project and file them somewhere safe. Pass a copy along to your designer too. We’ll all sleep better.