Image rights

Image rights – the lowdown
(Image by Sam Stephens)

Frankly, it would be disappointing to take a genius image only to find you can’t use it because it breaches some privacy or intellectual property law. So avoid disappointment, embarrassment or even a court case, and read this document that our legal team has put together before submitting an image. 

Some laws are pretty obvious but not all so it’s definitely worth checking out your knowledge before getting started.

These are our top 10 hot spots to consider:

1. Location
If you take an image on private land, you need written permission from the property owner before using it. This includes public spaces like shopping centres, schools, libraries and galleries that have a private owner. Gigs and concerts have specific rules on photography too. Before taking an image, think about the location and if you need the landowner’s permission.

2. The public
You don’t need to ask someone’s permission to take a picture of them in a public space. But, and it’s a big BUT, if you want to use the image commercially, you need them to fill in a model release form saying they give you permission to use it. If not, you could find yourself in a minefield of privacy, defamation and anti-privacy laws. If the people are blurry, and can’t be identified, you should be fine. Take special care when photographing children as the privacy laws around them are extra stringent. Fill out one of our model/minor release forms.

3. Models
Even if you’re photographing models as part of an organised shoot, you need to get their written permission to use the images. A model might specific that their image can’t be used in certain contexts – on moral or religious grounds – so watch out for this.

4. Famous people / Celebrities / The Royal Family
We don’t allow images of famous people on Exposure, it’s just too complicated with permissions and usage is likely to be very expensive. 

5. Tattoos
This one, even we didn’t know about… Tattoos are works of art just like paintings and sculptures and copyright is tricky – it could be with the owner or the tattooist. Generally, more elaborate tattoos are protected so if you are taking a picture of one, you need to figure out whose permission you should be getting.

6. Clothing, props and furniture
These items can be problematic if they bear trade marks (names or logos) or if the design is unique, rare or iconic – a pattern that obviously belongs to a designer (think Orla Kiely) or an Eames chair, even an anglepoise lamp. As with a lot of these things, it’s all about context and how the image is used. You may need to prove that the object / piece of clothing is incidental to the image. But this isn’t always easy so you need to consider the shot carefully.

7. Buildings and public spaces
You can take pictures of famous buildings and landmarks and use them commercially as long as you didn’t have to trespass to take them. But do be careful, as some of the world’s most iconic buildings are protected as registered trade marks, the Gherkin for example. Likewise, there are certain public places in the UK – like Trafalgar Square and the Royal Parks – where professional photographers can’t take a picture without a permit. So, if in doubt, check it out, a simple Google should do it. And did you know you can take pictures of the Eiffel Tower in the day but not at night as the lights are copyrighted!

8. Artistic works and graffiti
Artistic works also includes maps, graphics and cartoons all of which may be subject to copyright. Copyright lasts for the lifetime of the author plus 70 years so take this into account if you are photographing a picture etc. The laws around graffiti are uncertain and shifting. Simple tags are unlikely to be protected. However, there have been a number of court cases arising from brands using established graffiti artists’ work as a backdrop to their campaign shoots without permission. So be mindful of featuring elaborate works of graffiti without seeking permission from the artist.

9. Logos, trademarks and slogans
If a brand name or logo is prominent in your image you could run into issues – you’d be breaching copyright laws if the image in some way implied an association or endorsement with a brand without their permission. Quotes and slogans may also be copyright protected so it’s best to do a trademark search to see if you need permission to use it.

10. Flags
You’re unlikely to run into issues featuring the UK flag but different countries have different rules so do check if you are featuring a foreign flag in your image.

This is just a flavour of some of the copyright issues you should be aware of. Knowledge is power people so please do be aware, we want you have a good experience on our site without having any pesky legalities to deal with.

Other useful resources
If you would like to explore some of the issues in this guide further, there are plenty of resources out there. To get you started, we’ve included some of the ones we find most useful below:

Find more information about intellectual property rights generally from the UK Intellectual Property Office at

You can find more information about data protection from the UK Information Commissioner’s Office at

The UK advertising codes can be found on the Advertising Standards Authority website at

You can obtain business advice, educational materials and other information and support relating to professional photography from membership organisations such as the Association of Photographers at and the British Institute of Professional Photography