You Own the Copyright

Avoiding Stock Photo Servitude…

Will the new-on-the-scene large corporate market-driven stock photo houses treat photographers and their photos as commodities?

History tells us the answer could very well be yes. Take the example of the cartoon syndicates established in the 1920’s under the guidance of newspaper king, William Randolph Hearst. He first introduced the concept of cartoon syndicates.

It works like this. The cartoonist signs a contract that says that the syndicate will promote the cartoon if the artist will follow a certain cartoon theme and style, and keep to it. The contract also states that the syndicate will own the copyright to the cartoon. Not the cartoonist.

How’s that? The syndicate owns the copyright?

If the artist decides to leave the syndicate, he or she cannot continue the cartoon. The syndicate will appoint a new cartoonist to continue it.


Believe it or not, the late Charles Schultz, of Minneapolis, did not own the copyright to his cartoon, Peanuts. The syndicate owned the copyright. Schultz received royalties, yes, and also promotion and endorsement monies, but he did not own the copyright on his own creation!

Can the corporate stock photo agencies of the future institute a system something like this? They certainly could. Vulnerable young photographers in the future, trying to make a living, could conceivably be open to signing over their copyright privilege in return for a paycheck, royalties, or other monetary return.

LESSON: Read the fine print. Stock agencies are starting to treat stock photos as commodities, that are “popular today, and gone tomorrow”. As an extra benefit to the agencies, they might want to secure the copyright of your short-lived generic stock photo. Perhaps their enticement will be to pay you a higher percent royalty (60% instead of 40%) if you sign over your copyright.

And don’t forget, if they own the copyright, they are now free to digitally “enhance” your photo in any way they wish–such as changing the color of a flag or removing an object.

If you are new to the stock photography field and you submit your images to a major stock photo agency, be careful not to sign over your copyright to the agency.


Here’s an all-inclusive copyright statement concerning reproduction of your website photos. Note that this statement also prohibits “use of any image as part of another photographic concept.”

“All photographs, text and code appearing on the PhotoSource International (PSI) sites are the exclusive property of the individual photographers and are protected under United States and international Copyright Laws.

Photographs, text and code may not be reproduced, copied, stored, or manipulated in any form without the written permission of the respective photographers or webmaster. This includes use of any image as part of another photographic concept or illustration. No image or any part of this site is within public domain. -RE

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