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Advice about the law and selling photos

Discussion in 'Beginner's Corner' started by SpottySocks, Feb 23, 2012.

  1. SpottySocks

    SpottySocks New Member

    Hello! Not entirely sure if this is the right place to ask, if not, please point me in the right direction! :)

    I've been into photography for about 5 years now, have recently upgraded my kit and am looking to try and make money out of it but I do have a few questions am hoping you guys can help me with.

    If I'm to take photos of local interest,and tourist attractions like certain buildings etc am I allowed to sell these to make a profit? Should I contact whoever owns the building to ask their permission first?

    What is the law regarding taking photos of people off the street? I like to take really random photos of people when they are out maybe shopping or talking to friends etc. I like the 'realness' of the shot because their facial expressions are not staged. Am I allowed to do this and add these photos to my online portfolio? Am I allowed to sell these photos, if anyone would buy them?

    I'm only now starting out and as already said am looking to make a little profit from it. I already have a job and obviously will keep this job until (if ever) I make an income high enough for me to warrant giving it up. At what point do I declare myself and actually turn it into a business and put my name to paper? I guess I would need public liabiliy insurance?

    Any tips, I would really appreciate it. Thanks guys. :)
  2. Mark

    Mark Well-Known Member

    The law is relatively simple on the subject of selling your photographs.

    In general, if you own the copyright relating to the images that you are selling, or a licence to commercially exploit the images, then you usually can sell them.

    On the question of 'can I take the picture in the first place?', the issue is much more complex. The law in England and Wales imposes relatively few restrictions on what you can and cannot photograph. However, individual attitudes towards moral and other social issues (rightly or wrongly) vary from person to person, officer to officer. Those inconsistencies have been the subject of endless debate involving both information and misinformation over many decades. Add to that the complexities surrounding what constitutes private or public property, and the whole subject becomes a swamp of argument, opinion and the occasional fact or law.

    Sorry, but there is no quick and easy answer to your question, other than, "it depends!"

    We've put a lot of information on SceneThat, but that can only start to identify some of the key issues. I often end up reminding people that with 'rights' come 'responsibilities'. Getting the correct balance can be difficult...
  3. Wheelu

    Wheelu Well-Known Member

    I'm no expert so this is a very rough guide, follow at your peril ;)

    If you can see it from a public path or road, not the grounds of a museum/stately home or a commercial shopping centre etc., you can photograph it and sell the image.

    If you want to use the image for advertising then you need the person's or owner's (e.g. of house, dog, cow, car etc) or artist's (e.g. any public artwork) permission, but if it is only for editorial use that is not normally necessary.

    If the editorial image shows the person or thing in an unfavourable way, and they have deep pockets, they could sue you.

    Theoretically HMRC expects to know about your business as soon as you begin to trade, whether or not you are making any money! In practice you will be doing the taxpayer a favour if you wait until you are making a profit before getting involved and generating paperwork. This is of course illegal, so take your choice. ;)

    It costs nothing to register as a sole trader, but you do have to keep detailed records and fill in the forms. HMRC run training courses for newbie businesses.
  4. beejaybee

    beejaybee Marvin

    Not to mention yourself. Just bear in mind that the tax forms will cost you quite a lot of time to fill in. Very likely the cost of your time will exceed the operating profit, even if you don't find yourself forced into employing an accountant to do the job for you.

    If you're selling the odd photo rather than trying to make a living out of it, try to operate on a cash only basis, so there is no paperwork for HMRC to take in interest in. "This is of course illegal, so take your choice. ;)" - but it's the way the people who cut your grass, wash your windows etc. work, and you don't often hear of these people being slung in jail for tax evasion.
  5. Mark

    Mark Well-Known Member

    Re the tax 'observation', I am reminded of Denis Healey's comment in The Economist (Feb 2000), "The difference between tax avoidance and tax evasion is the thickness of a prison wall." :eek:
  6. RogerMac

    RogerMac Well-Known Member

    Speaking as someone who has started a successful business (no not photography) can I wade in with some advice "Do it by the book". You will be able to set expenses off against income and frankly it will be some time before you make enough to pay tax and when you do it will help a lot to have your file marked "honest"

    Just to encourage you I know of nobody who has started a business and who did not make a loss for at least the first year.


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