Skip to Main Content

Copyright: A Guide


What is protected and not protected in photography

Photography can be protected in any one of three ways. First, a photograph can be protected for its timing. Suppose I take a photograph of a bear catching a salmon in an Alaskan river. My specific photograph is protected for my being in the right place at the right time. Exact reproduction of my photograph may be considered an infringement, but that does not prevent anyone else from taking a very similar photo and themselves received protection for their photograph. The underlying natural scene is never secured by copyright.

Second, the rendition of a photograph can be protected. The angle, the lighting, the exposure, the filters, the development techniques--all can produce a quality or effect that in sum leads to protection of a specific photograph. Importantly, is is not any specific techniques, but the total effect, that can be protected. Importantly as well, the underlying scene can never be protected, but only the totality of the image produced with this special effect. 

Third, the creation of the scene can be protected. This is where infringement often occurs. If the photographer stages the scene, arranging an array of details such as costume, background, etc. this is highly susceptible to copyright protection.  If another photographer comes along and creates a similar scene, this could be considered an infringement of protectible elements.