Dance photos and copyright

Any photographer that takes images at dance events will struggle with a copyright dispute at some point, and it can be really confusing for people in the images and event organisers. So I’ve put together a bit of a guide to most of the FAQs when it comes to using images from dance events (and I’ll put all the sources for the information at the bottom). If there’s anything you think I’ve missed, or needs changing- please let me know!

Who owns the image?

The photographer.

If an event pays to have images taken there, they are paying for the photographer’s time and a license to use the image under certain terms. Unless the photographer signs away the copyright to the images, they still own them.

But what if the image is of me?

The photographer still owns it.

They have rights to sell prints, publish it online and use it for editorial purposes (magazine articles etc) without seeking permission from you. You don’t own any form of copyright just because the image is of you.

However, you have rights to your likeness and reputation so you can contest if you feel a use damages your reputation (eg. if there was an article about something horrible in the swing scene and it has your face next to it), and they need your permission if they want to use it for commercial purposes (like adverts).

You also have to consent to photographs of you being taken at a private event (like a swing dance event). You don’t have to give consent if you’re in a public place.

I don’t remember giving consent to my photo being taken.

If there’s a photographer or videographer at an event, there will be a notice on entry and/or something in the information sent to you prior to an event (such as within the info pack) saying that there will be images taken and what purpose they will be used for. By entering the event under those terms, you are consenting to them, however you always have the ability to opt out. Just get in touch with the event organiser and they’ll let the photographer know. This is super-normal and happens all the time, so don’t stress if it’s something that you’d like to do – organisers and photographers are really used to having a list of people to try not to get in any images.

I want to use an image of me to promote my own event/classes

You must get permission from the copyright owner.

Even though the image is of you, you don’t own it, so you must ask permission from the copyright owner (usually the photographer). If you just use it, that’s copyright infringement, and the copyright owner can seek legal action. Most image licenses also explicitly state that you can’t use them for commercial use, so if you’re using it for a commercial event, this is particularly important.

But what if I just want to use an image online?

You need to ask permission from the copyright owner.

I paid for a photo shoot – are those images mine?

Because the images are of you, it doesn’t mean that you own them. When you paid, you paid for the photographers time and a copy of the images. Ask the photographer what rights to those images you have, and how you may use them.

I want to ask a photographer to take photos at my event – what rights will I have to the images?

That’s going to depend on the photographer, and you need to have that conversation before the event happens. Usually, they’ll give you copies of the images and they usually have watermarks on for online use (I send a watermarked copy for online and an unwatermarked copy for if you want to make flyers with them etc) – they’ll also likely have some terms of use for the images too (eg. Can’t be used for commercial use, or must have credits to the photographer if used online etc).

Can I set an image from an event as my profile photo or cover image?

Sure! If a set of images has been uploaded to Facebook, that’s probably their intended use. It’s good practice to just put a credit on stating the photographer (so people know who’s awesome work it is), or leave the watermark on (but that’s not always possible and photographers understand that).

This is so complicated – how do I know if I can use an image?

Yeah, it’s complicated. But your best practice is just to ask the copyright owner about how you intend to use the image. If in doubt – ask the photographer or the event organiser who owns the image. In the dance world, the answer is generally yes to most things, and they’ll let you know if there’s anything they want you do to (like leave a watermark on). So, it’s pretty simple if you just ask.

Last updated: Jan 2019


1. Intellectual Property Office: Copyright notice: digital images, photographs, and the internet.

2. Copyright Service: photography copyright

3. How to Geek Blog: Do I own an image if I’m in it?

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