Legal Question in Business Law in Pennsylvania

copyright law

If I buy photographs on e-bay, am I allowed to resell them and mass produce the photographs. What would allow me to legally copy photographs?

Asked on 10/25/01, 10:28 pm

1 Answer from Attorneys

Edward Hoffman Law Offices of Edward A. Hoffman

Re: copyright law

Generally, buying a photograph gives you the rights only to the individual print that you purchased. The copyright does not automatically pass with the photo itself. You can thus sell the print, give it away, destroy it, or alter it to suit your own interests. However, you cannot publish it.

The situation is like buying a book or a video -- you own the one copy and can resell it if you want, but you do not have the rights to reproduce it and sell the reproductions. (Imagine if you could; then everyone who bought a copy from you would also have the rights to publish it!)

You can try to find the copyright holder and negotiate a price for the publication rights. While the photographer is usually the original copyright holder, the copyright may have been transferred since the photo was taken. Also, if the photographer was working as someone else's agent/employee when he took the picture, then the copyright originally belonged to the employer/principal.

A further caveat is that, if the photo is of a recognizable person (or several recognizable people), then you may need to negotiate with him for the rights to use his image (unless he has previously released his rights to the copyright holder).

A final note -- copyrights have finite lifetimes, although those lifetimes are occasionally re-defined by changes in the law. Depending upon how old the photo is, the copyright may have already expired or it may have decades left to go. Be careful what you pay for -- if the copyright has only a few months left on it, you don't want to pay too much money to obtain it.

As you can see, the issue is more complicated than it might appear at first glance!

Good luck.

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Answered on 11/28/01, 8:16 pm

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