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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Do I Need Permission?


Commercial Vs. Editorial Uses • Sharp To The Edges • Extended Macro • TILT!

Labels: How-ToColumnTech Tips

This two-shot panorama of Old Faithful geyser was captured with a Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III and an EF 24-105mm ƒ/4L IS lens. This is an editorial use of the image, and no permits were needed to photograph the geyser within Yellowstone National Park.

Commercial Vs. Editorial Uses

Q In the August 2009 issue of Outdoor Photographer, you discussed the difference between commercial and editorial uses of images and the need for releases. Please expand on the definition of editorial uses. Would I need a signed permission from the owners of the properties I photograph to use the images in a book? Also, I understand that under certain conditions permission is needed to photograph in such areas as national parks and other federal properties. Under what conditions is that type of permission required?
P. Larson
Cedar City, Utah


A Editorial use of a photograph informs. It’s newsworthy, educational, historical or generally conveys information about an event, place or activity. Commercial use is easier to define: It’s about selling products. Any use of an image to market a product (including the cover of a book or magazine) is a commercial use. The reason the stock image agencies representing my work stress the need for model or property releases is to expand the usefulness of an image to both editorial and commercial buyers. Commercial use is, by the way, more profitable to the agency and the photographer. So, for example, say that you want to use a photograph of someone’s property to illustrate a region discussed in your book. No release needed, unless it’s the cover. But if you want to sell the photograph to a pest control company to use in an ad for termite extermination services, you need the release.

Regarding photographing in national parks, no permission is needed as long as you’re photographing in ways that are “consistent with the protection and public enjoyment of park resources, and...avoids conflict with the public’s normal use and enjoyment of the park.” Typically, permits are required for large groups (photography workshops, for example) and commercial setups using professional models and crews or for advertising purposes. In those cases, the National Park Service (NPS) is concerned with protecting both the park and its visitors and recovering the cost of park personnel assigned to manage the commercial activity. Each of the national parks seems to express the NPS policy in slightly different ways, so if you have concerns, check with the specific facility you’re visiting. Again, the key is to distinguish between editorial and commercial use of your images. You can’t use your photograph of the park lodge to sell, for example, hiking shoes, but you can use it as an illustration in your book about places you recommend for hiking.

I’d like to stress, once more, that my own principles demand that I secure permission from any person, or the owner of any unique property, I photograph. It’s a matter of simple respect and of good business practice, in my opinion. But I’m not a lawyer, and if you have any particular concerns about this, you should consult an expert in intellectual property law.

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