Copyright, by definition is the exclusive legal right given to a creator. In this instance, we're talking about Photographers and the works they create, photographs.
When taking a photograph, the person looking through the viewfinder, and clicking the shutter button and therein capturing a photograph, legally owns the image captured in it's entirety. It is their intellectual property and they are Copyright Owners.
Being a "Copyright Owner" entitles you to ownership rights that are exclusive to you.
These include (and are not limited to) :
- Reproducing the Photograph
- Distributing Copies of the Photograph
- Displaying the Photograph
These rights are given to all Photographer's and their copyrighted property through the US Copyright Act at 17 U.S.C 106. It is a legally given and upheld right.
Let's break down those bullet points, yes? Here's where it gets a little real and what you could be doing that is illegal activity.
"Reproducing the Photograph "
A Copyright Owner is the ONLY individual allowed to reproduce photographs unless express permission is granted stating otherwise.
Saving photographs you have not taken, whether to your desktop or smartphone, and printing them is illegal. There are no exceptions. Artists and individuals alike are protected from this activity and you can be held financially liable for breaking the law and infringing upon a photographer's property.
"Distributing Copies of the Photograph"
A Copyright Owner is the ONLY individual allowed to create copies of their work. You many not scan a photograph you've ordered to make more copies. You may not print copies for family or friends without express permission. This is illegal. You can be held financially liable for breaking the law and infringing upon the financial gain of an artist.
"Displaying the Photograph"
A Copyright Owner is the ONLY individual allowed to show or display a digital or printed image. You may not right-click and save an image and upload it to Instagram. You may not right-click and Save As at all. That infringes upon the rights of an Artist and you could be held financially liable.
2. Print Release VS. Copyright.
Having a print release from your photographer is different from transferring copyrights from your photographer.
A Print Release allows you the specific right to create printed works from digital images supplied by a photographer. That's all.
A Copyright release from your photographer allows you to obtain FULL OWNERSHIP of the images from your photographer. The photographer releases all legal rights and you then hold full rights to the images.
A Copyright Release from a photographer is RARE and even when offered, the price range is in the hundreds to thousands of dollars PER DIGITAL IMAGE.
Be sure to clarify with your photographer which they offer-and which you are seeking.
3.) Instagram Filters / Editing Apps
Without express permission to do so, sharing an artists work on social media is illegal.
However, many photographers supply images low-resolution images specifically for use online-so that you're able to share with family and friends. Usually, they require a written credit statement (Photo by: Blah Blah), and business tagging when applicable.
When uploading photographs to Instagram and any other social platform, it is illegal to alter it with an editing filter. It is also illegal to resize or crop an image. You may NOT alter an image in which a Photographer or otherwise holds Copyright Ownership.
Adding text, warmth, cropping, sharpening, etc. is all prohibited and infringes upon an artist's rights.
Just because a Photographer doesn't send you a Cease and Desist (DMCA) letter every time you infringe upon them, doesn't mean they CAN'T. It's best to be respectful of their work!
4.) What if there's no Watermark?
Luckily for photographers, we don't have to watermark our images to make them our images. And because of that, even if you've come across images without a watermark, you aren't entitled to use them just because they aren't protected.
Think of it this way:
You're walking down the street on a sunny day and you realize you're thirsty. REALLY thirsty. You glance to your right, and notice that the house next to you has a hose out front! Do you walk onto the property to use their hose?