Am I infringing on copyright by selling photos of a sports event?

Discussion in 'Sports' started by sandra_halverstadt, Jul 28, 2010.

  1. The owner of a local organization that puts on sports races has left me a message saying that I am infringing on his business by selling photos on my photography website, to racers in the event, that I have taken of sports events organized by his business. These races are in the public view. I want to know where I stand before I return his call. This organization hires a photographer to sell photos on their website as well and that I am infringing on his business.
    Thank you for your input.
    I might add that some of my photos show the start and finish line banner which has the name and business logo of the orgnanizer. I also have megatags and SEOs that have the title of the race and the organizations name in them. So am I infringing by selling photos of the races at all or by having the name of the organization and logos in the photos that I am selling? Otherwise my photos are of cycling or running racers running through the mountain side.
     
  2. I'm not a lawyer but ...
    If the sporting events take place in a genuinely public place, as I understand it, the mountains near where you live, you have an absolutely unrestricted right to take and sell pictures. If the events took place in a private place to which the public had access (e.g. a sports hall), you would need to ask permission, which the event organiser would be entitled to give or refuse, in order, for example, to leave the field clear for another photographer which the organiser has hired or licenced. Logos etc. are copyright insofar as you are not allowed to use them on fake goods (think fake Rolex watches made in China for a cost of $20) to pass off fakes as genuine. You can photograph corporate logos on view in a public place as much as you like and publish the pictures (but you must not use the pictures in a derogatory way).
    I am UK based so cannot give you chapter and verse on US copyright law but the situation is general terms will certainly be as described above.
     
  3. You don't mention what country you're in, so it's going to be hard for anybody to give you specific information. But: generally, something happening on public property (like a street) isn't anybody's exclusive territory. On private property, the owner of that property could limit who may work there (as a commercial photographer) during some given event.

    But ... copyright infringement? No. If anything, the promoter of the event might be able to talk about trademark issues, when it comes to how your photographs happen to feature their logo and other signage.

    The most important issue here is that you're not talking about selling these images for commercial use (as in, for use in other advertisements, where the subjects of those photos could be seen as endorsing some product or service). And you're not featuring the race organizer's logo/banner in some derogatory context (are you?).

    I'm not aware of any legal concept that includes "infringing on a business" by photographing what happpens in a public space. Tread carefully, in terms of how you represent yourself and your work, so that nobody involved in running the event could say that you're claiming to be affiliated with or approved by them, per se.

    But mostly: it's a small world. You don't want to burn bridges or cause friction where none needs to happen. Use your judgement about whether or not it's helpful to you to have good relations with the event organizers and/or any photographers working such things in the future.
     
  4. I agree with both of the responses. They were both very articulate.
    I too believe you're in the clear as long as you don't try to sell your images to a commercial enterprise such as a book. In that case, you would need a release from the person(s) in the photo.
    I also think that you should come to terms with the event organizers. I don't know how your sales are going, but you might try to either: a) be hired by them for a flat fee or a percentage of their sales of your images or, b) give them some of your images for them to use to promote their event.
     
  5. In Australia if the event is on public land or you are standing on public land when you take the photos the organiser of the event has no claim to copyright and neither do any of the participants. You would be free to sell whatever photos you took however you wish to sell them.
    If the event is on private property what you are allowed to do will be governed by the conditions printed on the entry ticket or posted at the entrance of the event. If neither of those things exist then once again the organiser or participants have no claim at all.
     
  6. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    I too believe you're in the clear as long as you don't try to sell your images to a commercial enterprise such as a book. In that case, you would need a release from the person(s) in the photo.​
    No you wouldn't. A release isn't necessary for editorial usage, which book usage is unless it's a Nordstrom book or something like that. (US)
     
  7. "you have an absolutely unrestricted right to take and sell pictures"
    Actually, you only have the 'absolutely unrestricted right to take' the pictures (on public property), but not to sell them. You can take pictures as you like on public property without restriction for your own personal use. As far as selling them, unless someone complains, technically your are OK. But person can file a lawsuit against you for selling photos taken without their permission/release.
    It may be in your best interest to stop whether you are in the right or not as a lawsuit can be costly and time consuming. You should really talk to an attorney but I suspect you will get the same or a similar answer. I base this on information I got from my attorney a few years back. Is it worth the risk? Only you can decide. I stopped.
     
  8. If the event is on private property what you are allowed to do will be governed by the conditions printed on the entry ticket or posted at the entrance of the event. If neither of those things exist then once again the organiser or participants have no claim at all.​
    In the UK (and probably most of the rest of the world) conditions printed on the back of a ticket are invalid as you don't get to see them until after you have bought the ticket. In this respect they are after the fact conditions imposed on a contract which is not legal. The terms and conditions must be visible before the contract (ticket purchase) is entered into.
    Obviously if the terms on the back of the ticket are just a repeat of what is posted at the entrance, this is o.k.
     
  9. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    But person can file a lawsuit against you for selling photos taken without their permission/release.​
    On what grounds?
     
  10. But person can file a lawsuit against you for selling photos taken without their permission/release.​
    Person can file a lawsuit against you if they don't like your looks. But can they win? In general, model releases are needed only when the photographs are published in a context that implies that someone in the photo is endorsing something, such as a product, service, or political or religious idea. Simply selling a print of a photo all by itself generally does not require a model release. The main thing that can get you into trouble when selling photos is when you had no right to take the picture in the first place, such as if you sneak up to a window of a private residence and photograph the people inside without their knowledge or consent. In that case, the very existence of the photo is evidence of an invasion of privacy, and you could be sued or even criminally prosecuted whether you sell the photo or not.
    The best online review of the issues surrounding model releases is Dan Heller's, which you can find here:
    http://www.danheller.com/model-release.html
     
  11. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    The main thing that can get you into trouble when selling photos is when you had no right to take the picture in the first place​
    That doesn't appear to be an issue here.
     
  12. Jeff, I agree; I was just trying to make it clear that as long as you had the right to take the picture in the first place, simply selling copies of it does not generally require a model release.
     
  13. Sandra -
    Prefix my answers below by saying I'm applying U.S. Law and standards:
    That is reason #1 why I refuse to shoot a road race or Triathon - The majority of the time they take place on public (or what is generally public) property and it is impossible to control the entirety of the course. One argument that could be made by the organizer is that for the terms of the event - it (the course) becomes private property and it is reserved by the race organizer. Private events / property have different rules than public events / property.
    Taking the photos is generally not prohibited - it's the selling of them after or during the event that becomes an issue - as many organizers / events use the photo sales as a fundraiser.
    For example - A little league team rents a public diamond to play baseball on. For the purposes of that event, the diamond becomes private property and they (Team that is renting) can control who sells photos from that event. I could go there and as long as I stay in the spectator area shoot until I'm ready to stop, but if I try to sell the photos - they (team) could block me by saying that it was a private event and I didn't have their permission to sell photos. Would it hold up in court? Maybe - or - Maybe not - but it would be expensive to find out and the bad publicity with the teams, parents and league would not help me in the short or long term.
    Just to clarify - I'm not talking about the parent that takes a few snap shots of their team / runner and friends and hands them out - I'm talking full pro's with websites and marketing / sales abilities. There's no way to stop parents from shooting and handing out photos - In fact I encourage them to...That way when a parent sees one of my photos they know the difference.
    Bottom line is just that - the organizer has a contract with another photographer to handle the photo duties for the event - If they (organizer) asks you to stop selling you have 3 choices: 1) ignore them and keep selling 2) stop selling and dissappear or 3) stop selling for now and contact the organizer and ask them if they would be open to a) letting you keep selling with a cut going to them or b) having you be the exclusive / official race photographer for their next event.
    As an event / sports photographer - We mostly work on speculation - meaning that if we don't sell photos we don't get paid (there are exceptions to this). If another photographer shows up at an event and starts shooting / selling that takes money out of our pockets. (and out of the organization's) Meaning that we put in 12 + hour days and see our take home reduced...Plus the time / money spent on promotion, getting the deal, etc...
    Another way of looking at it (and I've said this before on this forum) - How would people react if we were talking about food or t-shirt vendors? Chances are not many would say it's okay for another t-shirt vendor to set up shop and start selling t-shirts next to a vendor that's paid for the space to be there. But for some stupid reason that I can't grasp we photographers think that it's fine morally and legally to sell photos from events when we're not the official photographers.
    Dave
     

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