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The license of a work is not the only variable that determines if a work is reusable. The license only really touches on the authors’ rights. There are more things you should consider before reusing or remixing content. This article reflects on the reuse of photos. Be sure to check these rights for your own country.

The stack of rights

There’s a lot of stuff happening in a photo. People, objects, illustrations, logo’s, etc. can all be in the frame. For each of these you have to determine if they limit the reusability of the photo. These rights are stacked, in other words: they all add up. And if one of those cause an uncertaintity, then you’re probably better off looking for another photo.

A person

Let’s have a look at one of the most common subjects of a photo: a person. A person has portrait rights (again: check the legislation in your own country for specifics!) that might limit the use of the photo. Even if it is published under a Creative Commons license. The following flow chart gives an example of the questions you should ask yourself to determine the reusability.


 This flowchart gives an example of the factors that determine the reusability of a photo with a person in it.
This flowchart gives an example of the factors that determine the reusability of a photo with a person in it.

If you are writing an article about the person pictured in the photo or the event that the photo was taken at, then you’re likely allowed to use the photo. But if you’re intended use is to sell a product, then you really need to know of the person in the photo has agreed to that kind of use. Most of the photos you’ll find with a Creative Commons licensed have not been cleared, in other words: the photographer does not have a signed agreement of the person in the photo that would allow the use of the photo for anything you want. This is where stock photography sites are a better option.

Other elements and rights

There are several other rights, apart from portrait rights, that need to be taken into account. These are related to the elements that can be seen in the photo. Some of these are:

  1. Related rights
  2. Intellectual property and brand rights
  3. Industrial design rights
  4. Moral rights

(To be continued…)