Equine photography: Who owns that photo of your horse?

Thanksgiving Day Hunt
I took this photo for the Hunt's blog at our Thanksgiving Day Hunt.

At many horse shows and events, equine photographers are present to help immortalize your experience. Unlike your parent, friend or spouse, these folks are trained to catch your horse at the height of its jump, not right before you take off or right after you land.

We all wait with bated breath to receive the proofs, hoping to find the photo that captures the excitement of the moment, the glory of our horse, and hopefully our at least acceptable equitation.

It’s at this point that confusion arises. When a photographer posts proofs on his or her website or sends them to you in the mail, they do not belong to you. They belong to the photographer who has used his or her equipment and expertise to obtain the shot. You are not supposed to download them, post them on your Website, or print them out. Either this is widely misunderstood orĀ  frequently flaunted because I see photos with PROOF written clearly across the image every where — on websites showing horses for sale, in people’s Webshots albums, Facebook accounts, and on-line where riders ask for critiques. Some photographers no longer post proofs, as evidenced by this statement:

Due to the issues faced in past years with images being removed from this site unlawfully and uploaded to other sites like Facebook and due to other copyright infringements, proofs are no longer available for public viewing.

So, you say, I never post proofs. I buy the image and own it! But do you?

When you purchase a print from a photographer in the U.S. you do just that: you buy that particular print of that particular photograph. It is now yours to frame or put in an album. And that’s it. You may not copy it, scan it, post it on your website or use it for an advertisement unless you have negotiated those rights with the photographer who took the image.

It’s a question of copyright. And keep in mind, copyright laws are not the same in every country so it’s important to understand how they apply to your situation. While in the U.S. the photographer retains the copyright for the photographs they take unless they sell those rights, in Canada, the person who commissioned and paid for the photograph to be taken owns the copyright.

Who is the author of a photograph determines who owns the copyright in the photograph. Generally, the author is the first owner of the copyright in a work. This is true for photographs with some exceptions. The Copyright Act provides that where a photograph is commissioned the copyright belongs to the person who orders the photograph. Source: Professional Photographers of Canada

Although the photograph was taken of you and/or your horse, the rights to use the image belong to the photographer. You can purchase the right to post the image on your Website, or publish in a sales ad or other venues, but that right does not automatically come along with the 5×7″ print that you ordered. It’s a good idea to always check with the photographer who took the picture how you can use it.

Now, here’s another thing to consider. Say you have a photograph of your horse being shown by a professional at a show. You negotiate with the photographer to use the pic in a sales ad. So, you’re good to go? Nope. Not unless you have permission from the trainer to use it in the form of a model release. In fact, although some states will allow a verbal release, it’s always a good idea to have a release in writing from the rider that allows you to use the photograph in a variety of situations.

But what about the photos that appear to support show results, such as those that appear in The Chronicle of the Horse? That’s different. Photographs taken for editorial content do not require the permission from you or the rider to appear in print.

I know it’s tempting to make copies of the prints or to post the proofs. Just remember: photographers make their living by selling photographs, not from giving them away. If you think your Aunt Sally can take pictures that are “good enough” for what you want, then use the ones she took. Just don’t complain that the photo isn’t sharp or that she didn’t catch your horse at the right moment.

P.S. As a writer, it bothers me when my writing appears under another person’s byline. I know you can’t copyright the words, but they way they go together? Well, that’s another story!

More resources:

Common Questions & Answers about Copyrights

24 thoughts on “Equine photography: Who owns that photo of your horse?

  1. This is such a difficult subject to fathom, even for professionals, that I think the fact that the internet has made it possible for everyone to publish makes it nearly impossible to comply.

    However, simply ASKING to use an image or words opens the door to learning the rules, and everyone should ask. That’s how you learn!

  2. Boy do I feel dumb. I was in the “I bought it so I can post it” category. Luckily it hasn’t been an issue, but I thank you for bringing this to my attention.

  3. Great article – found it while searching for releases for this sort of thing. I’ve got a situation where I’ve been taking my nephew and niece to their riding lessons at a private facility and being a photography student (night school so I can branch out) have been taking their photos as they’ve been riding. This has been ongoing for over a year. I’m at the point where the farm owner has given me permission to be IN the ring with the kids as I’ve been getting some great shots of them for use in their summer and winter BBQ slideshows, etc. As this grew, the other kids wanted me shooting them too and I’ve agreed – posting them (watermarked in a nice manner) on Facebook for the kids to see, etc. I know I’m not going to make any$$ on Facebook resolution stuff, and it’s been good practice for me with moving subjects. Recently one parent who’s been fine till now has decided to kick up a fuss about the whole thing so I’ve removed all the pics from FB for now. I’m looking for an example of a model release that would apply for a situation like this, but have had no luck yet. If anyone has any ideas, PLEASE let me know where to find them as I would like to have the parents sign something that covers my ass on this stuff – including my sister (though she’d never be an issue – we get along great, always have).

    Many thanks..


  4. While I don’t have a reference to the actual law, a number of photography clinics/workshops/classes (whathaveyou) that I/my peers have taken have stated that if you are taking pictures on public property/at a public event in CANADA, you are good to go-you do NOT require a model release (because it is open to the public). Obviously something worth confirming, but this might be one of those ‘country differences’.

  5. in the USA, if its for editorial purposes its one thing, for commercial/ad purposes its another. Depending on the situation, get releases from each of the rider, the horse owner and the location and you’ll be covered. In some public parks, state and fed law require permits and insurance for COMMERCIAL (translation – your make money off it) photography conducted in public parks and beaches and areas. Sure, America is “free”……

  6. Thank you for a great post!! Its a very interesting subject and i think a lot of shooters covering sports and events are very concerned about this. Its tricky finding the right balance between protection and exposure of your images.

    I have deliberately stopped posting proofs of certain riders that NEVER buy a single shot. Funny enough they are usually the ones who ask first when your images will be available online.

    Unfortunately here in Spain most people and even companies rarely have a clue about copyright. I have snapped my images being illegally used in quite a few places to be honest.

  7. You are incorrect on your information regarding copyright automatically going to the person who purchases a photo. if one is commissioned to photograph then the person Or company commissioning the photographer owns the copyright. Unless there is a contract to specify otherwise this is the case. If I shoot a horse show I am not commissioned as I sell my photos online afterwards and therefore I am the artist and owner of the copyright. If my photo I purchased by someone in the US then their laws cover my copyright protection as it does imternationally. Please check http://www.ppoc.ca/copyright.php. So before you make statements that can confuse people you should check the laws thoroughly as it can be misleading for copyright thieves who are always looking for a way to justify their crimes thank you.

    1. Hi Tracey, thank you for clarifying that. I have changed the post accordingly. When I first wrote this, I based that comment on information from a Canadian photographer but your link is more accurate.

  8. Thanks for the excellent article Liz. Very informative, and easy for the layperson to understand. A link to it has been added to the “Image Use Policy” page of my website.

    Keep up the good work!

  9. Liz, would you email me at afterglowexposures@gmail.com— I am shooting a series of horse shows this summer (first time shooting as official photog, but have shot and shown before) and would like to have this article as a handout to my clients. Would that be ok with you? Thank you for providing such an informative article. As a photographer we see this all too much and sometimes they don’t realize it is against the law. I’m in the U.S. just fyi. Thanks! Mariah

  10. Working for a dog rescue organization, where I take a lot of dog and event photos meant for the benefit of the organization, I am finding similiar problems. The dogs’ fosters and owners take those photos and post them all over the internet. Sometimes they have even had the gall to enter them in contests – really – as their own! Might I quote excerpts from your article and link to it when I write a similar column for our newsletter?

    1. You are welcome to quote from my article if it would help. Years ago for a Public Relations client, I ghost wrote a series of articles for someone who took them to a writing class and had them critiqued as his own! Some people have a lot of chutzpah!

  11. I’m glad that you appear to be receiving positive responses from this post Liz. I am a professional photographer that has had to deal with these issues more than I care to think about. Have you ever heard/had this type of experience?: A person was taking a picture of a photo on hanging a wall. I told him that the photo was copyright protected. His response was “That’s ok, I’m not going to resell it.”

  12. what if you bred the horse and want to display your bloodlines, but the current owner doesnt want you to use current photos….. even photos taken at a public event?

  13. What if a photographer comes on to private property say a barn to do a photo shoot of another barn member and then takes pictures of your horse without permission (you did not give permission to take picture of your property, you did not hire them, did not buy from them etc) they take your horse put a watermark on it and display it on their business website for advertisement?

    1. Send the photographer a cease and desist letter. He/she has no right to use an image of your horse if the photo was taken without your permission on private property.

  14. Great post about equine photography and the ownership of photos of horses. It’s important for horse owners to understand the legal rights surrounding their horse’s images. In addition to the legal aspects, it’s also important to ensure that your horse is well-behaved and calm during the photo shoot. Using the best horse calming supplement can help your horse feel relaxed and comfortable during the photography session. Overall, this post provides valuable information for horse owners who are interested in equine photography.

    1. Not sure I’d agree with giving your horse a calming supplement. Some of the best shots I’ve seen are the ones that capture the energy and spark of the horse.

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