Copyright and Commercial Licensing for Businesses. What is not okay.

Hello again….. It’s been a stressful past couple of weeks as my back had gone out again and we are remodeling the studio, but now I’m back to normal activities – one more time of “going out” and I’m going for the cortisone injection 😉

Okay, so…. I thoroughly admit to being emotional, so this hits me at a bad time.   There are a few images of my daughter, Erynn, with horses that have gone viral for years.  Unfortunately, they started to go viral before I was putting proper watermarks on my images.  They are quite a few years old.   Some are forwarded and shared with awful cheesy quotes on them, etc.  *sigh*  Not a lot I can do about that.   Rest assured, these images are copyright protected of course.

Well, I hadn’t seen the one image of Erynn sitting on a fence for a while, so I did a reverse search on google images.   Up pops an Etsy seller using my image.  Was she selling my image?  At first, I thought so, then realized she was not selling my image, but using my image to sell her card designs.  Is that legal?  No, it is not.

(My daughter’s image is on the left.  I have contacted the other photographer whose image is on the right.)



Remember when I was doing Similac Infant Formula commercial work?   No, Similac was not selling my images, but they paid me to shoot and license the images to them to use with their product to help sell their product.  That is how commercial licensing works.   So unless an Etsy seller has signed a contract and paid me for use of my images (including a model release for my minor daughter), they cannot use my images to sell or to sell their own work.  This is illegal.

I was emotional and contacted the seller.  It was very upsetting to me that she was using this image.  I was a bit more emotional than I normally am because it is an image of my daughter, which my daughter finds embarrassing that a stranger is using it.  My daughter is almost 14 years old, of COURSE it would be embarrassing to her.  I check with Erynn before posting images – I get her reaction and I know what images will embarrass her and what will not.  I have this AWESOME shot of her as a toddler doing something really funny, and I would love to share it, but I will not, because it will upset her, so I am very conscious of this.

The problem is, many people are not aware of what commercial licensing is about.  You are not, even if you are a tiny Etsy seller, allowed to use images, clip art, graphics, or even fonts unless they are free use or public use type of images.  Just because you find them on Google, does not make them free use.  There has to be written stipulation that these are not only public use, but also allowed to be commercially used.   **OR** you have to find the photographer, and have a written contract signed by the photographer including model releases (including for minors) that these images can be used commercial, and this usually requires a hefty fee.   A one-year usage on images commercially can be anywhere from $500-5,000.

So all you sellers-of-online-products, graphic designers, or the like, you cannot use images without permission.

I expected to receive an “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have used your image, I will take it down.”  And honestly?  That would have sufficed.  I would have been like, “Thanks a lot… please respect peoples’ copyrights, and by the way, you have Dora the Explorer and Thomas the Tank Engine graphics, those are being illegally used as well.  Please consider this.”    But no, that’s not what was received.

What was upsetting about this whole experience is the flippant attitude that the Etsy seller used with me…. stating things like, “I am so sorry you have been so clearly put out by this.  Again, I am selling designs, not images of whoever.  By the way your images look like everyone else’s & you clearly live in a state of fear, which has gotta suck. Take it easy.  Thanks!! Melissa”   and  “I had no idea who the heck you are so I googled you and came across your website. How dare you accuse me of “hurting you daughter” when you clearly love to pimp her commercially ALL over your website.  You are CRAZY. Stop harassing me.”

Harassing?  No, that asking you to remove the image of my daughter being used illegally and saying that it does indeed hurt my daughter as well to see this, is not harassing.  However, calling me names like “crazy pimp” as in another message is more in line with harassment.

The most ironic thing is at the bottom of her Etsy store is listed the following:   “All of my designs are original creations……. Please do not copy my designs, design elements, or wording used…. My designs are for personal use only.  Commercial mass production, file sharing, or selling them for financial gain is strictly prohibited….”    This folks, this is the problem.   It’s not okay for anyone to copy or use her creations for commercial use, yet she proceeded to use a professional photographer’s photo in the way in which she doesn’t want her own products used.  Secondly, this Etsy seller boasts an education/10-year graphic design experience.  Copyright and usage is discussed in graphic design school.  We are intelligent people with use of Google…. we should all know this or at least think about it and look it up if in doubt.

Graphic Designers, Small Businesses, Photographers, etc. – we all have ethics to uphold.  We need to treat each others hard work respectfully and not violate copyright laws.   It is not okay for businesses to do this to one another.  If you want the public to value what you do, value and respect each other.

Unfortunately, we photographers deal with this type of thing almost every day.  The internet has been a blessing and a curse for our industry.


UPDATE:  For those who asked for an update.  Several photographers have come forward after seeing their professional images also used on this Etsy seller’s store.  They also tried to communicate with her.  She proceeded to call several of them names, and stated that she doesn’t feel in the least bit bad about stealing these images and using them illegally, and then said that she was being harassed.   *sigh*    So when does the thief become victim all of a sudden?  The ethics surrounding this industry anymore are downright sad.


About Jodie Otte

Maryland Newborn Photographer and Child Portrait Artist, Jodie Holstein-Otte, specializes in unique photography of newborn babies, kids, and families. She works on location in Harford, Howard, Cecil, Anne Arundel, Baltimore and other areas throughout Maryland. She uses both both natural lighting and soft studio lighting techniques.

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