Q&A: Submitted photos


From the Hendricks County Flyer (Avon):

Q: We had a high school coach submit a photo to run in the paper, which we did. Once the paper came out, the photographer called us threatening to sue and demanding payment.

I thought that once they’ve sold their photo to a parent/coach/school, they no longer owned it. We have a lot of submitted photos for youth sports teams, weddings, engagements, anniversaries, obituaries, etc. Are we wrong to publish these?

A: Unless the photo clearly had a label on the back saying it’s the property of the photographer, there’s no way you could have known the photographer was going to claim an ongoing copyright on it.

The photographer’s beef should be with the coach, assuming that person knew the photographer was going to limit use of the photo.

I’m assuming the photo was illustrating editorial content and not an advertisement, so if the photographer wanted to press a legal copyright infringement action, I think “fair use” would prevail in your defense.

For future reference, check submitted photos for indications that the photographer may be claiming a copyright. If so, check with the person who submitted the photo.

I’d suggest to this photographer that you did not infringe on his or her copyright and that if he or she wants to pursue an action it should be against the party that submitted the photo, not the newspaper, which had no reasonable way to ascertain an ongoing copyright claim.

Contact Steve Key, HSPA executive director and general counsel, with media law questions at skey@hspa.com or (317) 624-4427.