Copy Rights and Copy Wrongs – Photography

Nedroid's The Internet

Hey folks, sorry for the radio silence, things have been hectic in CalamityVille between hosting a friend’s Bridal Shower (THANKS FOR HELPING MOM) and then the subsequent energy crash and sleeping way too much. (yay…)

But enough about me!

During a chat with Elemental Photography about rights and who-can-do-what with photos, I realised that while I have an understanding on Image Rights and the different types, I got that from my formal education and not from my ‘stumbling through cosplay’ education.

So I thought I’d do a brief post on Photography Rights so you don’t inadvertently piss off photographers. (If you want to intentionally piss them off, then uh… you’re stupid.)


What is Copyright?

Nedroid's The Internet

Nedroid’s comic above is a good example what NOT to do.

Basically, copyright is the right to copy a work. It is not limited to making a profit, so those comments you see on youtube music videos saying ‘I don’t own the material so you can’t sue me’ are pretty much… less than useless. Sorry guys.

Now here’s the thing, Canadian and American Copyright are two different beasts. I can only imagine that European and Asian Copyright laws are different as well. Unfortunately I don’t know much about those so I’ll have to focus on Canadian and American.

Canadian Copyright:

Copyright means the sole right to produce or reproduce a work or a substantial part of it in any form.

Canadian Intellectual Property Office


American Copyright:

Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States (title 17, U. S. Code) to the authors of “original works of authorship,” including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works. This protection is available to both published and unpublished works. Section 106 of the 1976 Copyright Act generally gives the owner of copyright the exclusive right to do and to authorize others to do the following:

  • reproduce the work […]
  • prepare derivative works  […]
  • distribute copies of the work by sale  […]
  • perform the work publicly,  […]
  • display the work publicly,  […]
  • perform the work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission […]

US Copyright Office



What’s Creative Commons?

Creative commons is an alternate method of securing rights for artistic/literary/what-have-you works.

It’s worth Checking it out at the source because there are different options, and it’s not easily summed up in a sentence or two.

Creative Commons Licenses

Creative Commons Licenses

What is ‘Fair Use’?

Okay, it’s about to get weird here in a minute.

Fair use lets you use a copyrighted material (or part of) in certain cases without the owner suing the pants off you. When in doubt, always do your research. But in general, the following is considered fair use:

  • A review
  • Reporting on news
  • Education
  • Linking to the work (like the Creative commons list above!)
  • Transformative work (aka genderbends! aka crossovers! aka original designs of established characters!)

When in doubt, ASK PERMISSION. The very worst that will happen is the copyright holder says ‘no’.

What does this have to do with Cosplay?

whew! I know, sorry for the Law lecture. *adjusts professor glasses*

Science Cat

Also, Internet memes are a bit of a grey area.

When a photographer takes your picture, unless you have a crystal clear agreement, they own the photo rights.

Reader X: But I made the costume!

That’s nice. But they made the photograph, so that’s what they own. Most won’t care if you share it on your page (Hey, Advertising!) SO LONG AS YOU ATTRIBUTE THE PHOTOG.


Reader X: But isn’t the water mark enough?

They put the watermark there so that the photo doesn’t get passed around as someone else’s work. When you attribute the photo, then you’re doing your photographer friends a favour by saying ‘hey you know that badass pic of me in my Goat outfit? That was taken by Eleventh Photograph. He does awesome work. You should do awesome work with him!’


Which he does, and you should.

And then everyone is happy.

If you post the picture without saying who took it, that’s… not really a great way to make friends with the photog. They might get a little grumpy and be less likely to work with you in the future. 

What about Selling Prints?

If you want to sell prints of the photos, here are the following things from the photographer:

  • An agreement in writing (preferably signed) stating that:
    • it’s okay that you sell their work.
    • What kind of attribution you need
    • how much of the profit goes to the photographer

Each photographer has different preferences. SO ALWAYS ASK.

Be Prepared

Reader X: So like, what if I just sell prints at my table and not online?

Did I mumble? ALWAYS. ASK. Cons are big, but the photographer community is as gossipy as the Cosplayers’. The photographer will find out. And be (righteously) pissy.

Reader X: But I’m the one signing them! I made the costume!

And they were the one who took the picture, chose which ones of the set were best, post processed them and sent them back.

Before and After

The first picture is great, but the second is better. Srouce: Kassandra Leigh

It would be like a friend borrowing a mask you sculpted, and then copying it and selling the copies without telling you or giving you any money. Either way, it’s not cool.

Don’t be that Cosplayer.

 No one likes that Cosplayer. 



Reader X: Okay so if I do sell the prints without telling the photographers, what’s the big deal?

Well the following can happen:

  • You get sued
  • Cease and desist letter
  • The photographer black lists you
  • Other photographers black list you because they don’t want to deal with this sort of thing

panic cat

Mahm! I’m scurred.

This isn’t meant to be scare tactics, just legit things that can and will happen if you decide to be a jerk sell prints you don’t have rights to.


The Copyrighted-Costume

Are you ready for some sick beats sad truths?

The company that owns the character you are cosplaying as can ask you to do any of the following:

  • Take down your pictures
  • Pay them royalties for any funds you make off of that costume
  • Stop selling prints

Reader X: That’s so unfair!

Well, there are some ways around it, but in general, selling something based on copyrighted work is considered ‘derivative’ and therefore, they can totes sue you if they want.

Check out Deviant Art’s blurb on why they don’t want you selling fanart.

The worst offenders are Disney and Square Enix, although I know a couple manga/anime artists have said they’re not a fan of cosplayers either.

So unless you’ve done your research, it’s always best to play it safe…

and do your research. <.< I had something (better) for this, I swear.

xox Calamity