The U.S. Constitution and the Federal Copyright Act give “copyright” protection to “authors” for their “original photographs.” The copyright owners have the exclusive rights to:
- create copies of the work.
- create other works based on the original.
- distribute copies of the work to the public.
- publicly perform and display.
Laws provide for damages and criminal penalties for violations of these rights. The customer and the lab are subject to the law. The “author” is the owner of the copyright. Usually, the author of a photo or image is the person who snapped the shutter or created the image. If a professional photographer took the photo, then s/he owns the copyright. If the photographer is an employee of a studio, then his/her employer is considered the author.
Generally, it is not reasonable to rely solely on statements by customers claiming a right to copy the photograph, where the image is identified as a professional photograph by a mark, or it reasonably appears that a mark has been altered or removed. However, it is generally reasonable for a photo processor to rely on a written statement by the customer, where there is no marking identifying a photograph as a professional photograph, but there is a question about whether the photograph is professional. Further confirmation is necessary when there are prior written warnings from a photographer or prior dealings with a customer. When all reasonable efforts have been made to obtain permission from the photographer, copying or restoring a photograph for the personal use of a customer may be reasonable in cases where the photographer or studio is unlikely to object to copying.