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Copyright Basics

Artwork, including photographs, drawings, paintings and illustrations are all "intellectual property" and in so being are protected by the U.S. Federal Copyright laws and the Berne Convention. These copyright laws were put in place to protect the interests of the artist, and to ensure that creative works will be available to the public. Without these protections it would be difficult for an artist to make a living and thus to go on creating original work.

Permission MUST be obtained from the artist of the image or his/her agent before ANY reproduction takes place. Failure to obtain this permission is a violation of the U.S. Federal Copyright laws and the Berne Convention. Since the copyright law, like any law, can be difficult to interpret for the general public several attempts have been made to make it easier to understand. One of those attempts "The Copyright Commandments" was put together by The Picture Agency Council of America and is reproduced here for your convenience. Not knowing the law does not excuse you from the law. Please, know your responsibilities when it comes to intellectual property.

The Copyright Commandments

  1. When it's created it's copyrighted. Use the copyright notice. ©
  2. The photographer or his agent has the exclusive right to exploit the copyright in each image. That right is for the life of the photographer plus 70 years.
  3. Permission to use a copyrighted photograph for any purpose whatsoever must be obtained in advance, in writing, to avoid possible violation of the Federal law on copyright.
  4. Any unauthorized use constitutes an infringement.
  5. Penalties for infringement are monetary and can be severe.
  6. Combining, altering or scanning photographs or any part thereof, including electronically, is an exclusive right held by the photographer and permission to combine or alter should be obtained in writing prior to any such changes or uses.
  7. Exceeding the terms of a license has been held to be an infringement. A new license is required prior to additional use.
  8. An artist's rendering of a photograph in another medium is a derivative use of an image and requires the written permission of the copyright owner prior to use.
  9. Re-creating a copyrighted photograph is a derivative use and therefore requires the permission of the copyright holder of the original image.
  10. Reference use of a photograph or any part hereof requires the permission of the copyright holder.
For more information on copyright, visit the US Government copyright site at: