The Copyright issue

Recently it came to my attention that Reddit, where several famous colorizers got their start, is encouraging people to color any and all B&W photograph they can get their hands on.  I figured at first I was just misreading (me being dyslexic, that happens), so I stalked the site a little bit…..and turns I wasn’t misreading.  When did vintage colorization turn into “colorize every B&W photo you see”?  You understand the word vintage, right?  A week ago is not vintage.

It really isn’t that hard to figure out – if the photographer is still living, you CAN NOT BY ANY MEANS manipulate the photo unless you have his/her permission. If you refuse to get permission, there’s a possibility your colorized version will be seen by the original photographer and they will either question your actions or just sue because of your failure to ask permission.  There’s also the possibility of having to answer to the subject in the photograph, be it a celebrity or model.  They have just as much of a right to sue you.

Just like when a musician wants to cover a song, they need permission first from the original artist. You can’t just go in and figure nobody will know because trust me, photographers know their work. Before you flare up “but once I place color into the photo, it is my artwork” – WRONG!!!  Sorry but that doesn’t work because you did not take the original photo, so it is not yours to lay claim to.  And trust me, that question will come up, “Did you take the photograph?”  That’s what it boils down to.

The other thing to understand is if the image you pick is controversial, that could easily land you straight in court. Before you say ‘that’ll never happen’ , wanna bet?  If only certain people are supposed to have access to that photo, or have permission to post the photo online but you snatch it to colorize and then post it online, you might see yourself in front of a judge.  The people in the photo, their family, and the photographer could get you for that one depending on what the photo is.

Take it from a photographer who took business classes, there are contracts between photographer and client, which should just be common sense first off.  Who else would the photographer get paid.  One of the many contracts a photographer has with his client deals with photograph usage; TV, or as a promotion, even on merchandise – the photographer gets paid for as long as that photo is in use. If you decide to use that photo while it’s under contract – it wasn’t part of the contract for you to manipulate the image so you’ll have questions to answer.

Trust me, there are photographers who won’t even care if you colorized it for fun. I went to school with two guys that preferred black and white photography and that is all they turned in; they loved the look of it over color.  Knowing the personality of just one of those guys, I can see him hunting down a colorizer because – his original work was destroyed. That’s why you always get permission first.

Or you just stick to vintage photographs and save yourself the stress.

More information here –

10 thoughts on “The Copyright issue

  1. Sad to say, once it is out there on any publc site, this will happen, no matter what the legalities and desires of the original artist. I do not condone this behaviour, but it will happen. Because people really do not give a damn


  2. This is a great post and thank you for pointing out the copyright issues. I either take my own or scout for photos with creative commons permission. There are rules that say if you are using the photo in part of a larger artwork or using it for critique it is not infringement. I regularly cut up magazines to make art so I did my research well in advance. But, yes, I am mindful and ask myself the questions when I go on the search for photos to add to my work or manipulate.


  3. Just use images in the Public Domain, such those in the US Library of Congress. Working on vintage photos of the turn of the century or up to 1910s makes the copyright requirements increasingly less applicable.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s