You may get sued big time if you aren’t careful with what you upload to Unsplash

Feb 12, 2020

Ole Henrik Skjelstad

Ole Henrik Skjelstad is a Norwegian math teacher and landscape photographer. He fell in love with photography in 2013 when he got a camera as a birthday present. You can follow his work on 500px, IG, and Flickr, and get his tutorials here.

You may get sued big time if you aren’t careful with what you upload to Unsplash

Feb 12, 2020

Ole Henrik Skjelstad

Ole Henrik Skjelstad is a Norwegian math teacher and landscape photographer. He fell in love with photography in 2013 when he got a camera as a birthday present. You can follow his work on 500px, IG, and Flickr, and get his tutorials here.

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Unsplash has in a short time become a major player in the photo-sharing industry. 174,000 photographers have uploaded images to the site. The platform this month boasts 5,000 views and 27 downloads per second. (PER SECOND!) People download images for blogs, classes, and other purposes, but also for commercial use. There is a big debate in the industry asking if Unsplash is good or bad, but it is not what I want to talk about today. Today I want to talk about the legal risks you face when you upload work to Unsplash. Not as the end-user, but as the photographer.

Photographers use Unsplash for exposure because of the enormous traffic the site generates. A company may hire a photographer for commercial assignments or simply want to license a high-resolution version of an image it found on Unsplash.

Unsplash is very easy to use. The photographer simply uploads an image to the site and artificial intelligence will analyze the image and add keywords. Since Unsplash isn’t run like an ordinary stock-photo corporation, there are some pitfalls involved in uploading images to the platform. The photographer risks litigation.

If I want to upload an image to 500px for licensing where a model is in the frame, I have to fill out a model release form. Even if it’s me. Even if I have my back to the camera. The company can now sell the image because it is on the safe side. It is on the safe side because the paperwork is fine. Unsplash, however, doesn’t require model releases. The photographer is responsible for the paperwork. If, for example, the photographer has a person in the image without a model release, he (or she) is exposed to litigation. In particular, if someone downloads the image and use it for commercial purposes. One of the persons in the image may come after you. They may come after the company, but they may also come after you, the photographer.

Here is the relevant bit from the Unsplash license: “To upload a photo, the photographer agrees that they have the proper releases (model, trademark, etc.) needed to submit the photo on Unsplash, released under the Unsplash License. … You are allowed to use a photo of a public structure as long as you do not infringe on any trademarks.”

If you were worried about Releases, wait till you get to the Trademarks bit. Trademarks and brands constitute a much bigger risk. Let’s say I am uploading a cityscape for licensing to 500px. They will not accept the image before I have cloned out company neon signs, trademarks and brand names. A company owns the rights to its brand or trademark. The majority of the big brands take this very seriously. In plain words, it can cost you tremendously if a brand finds its logo or something which represents the company in an image you have uploaded to Unsplash.

Professional photographers have plenty of experience with licensing, and know how to avoid the pitfalls. Amateurs, on the other hand, know less about the risks involved in uploading images to a site like Unsplash.

To sum up, I am not telling you not to use Unsplash, I am telling you to get your paperwork in top shape if you do.

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Ole Henrik Skjelstad

Ole Henrik Skjelstad

Ole Henrik Skjelstad is a Norwegian math teacher and landscape photographer. He fell in love with photography in 2013 when he got a camera as a birthday present. You can follow his work on 500px, IG, and Flickr, and get his tutorials here.

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10 responses to “You may get sued big time if you aren’t careful with what you upload to Unsplash”

  1. Tunes Firwood Avatar
    Tunes Firwood

    The claim that incidental signage in a cityscape image constitutes trademark infringement is unusual: got a citation on that?

  2. Vincent Reyna Avatar
    Vincent Reyna

    Was it spiderman? Some movie filmed times square and they changed the ads for the movie but were sued because the companies paid for that ad space in times square.

  3. Kryn Sporry Avatar
    Kryn Sporry

    Click bait title. Not used to that from diyphotography. Disappointing. The article is sound and provides good advice. It is however NOT saying that you WILL (“you’ll”) get sued if you don’t have your paperwork in order. It says there is a possibility, a risk. There is a difference.

    1. Ole Henrik Skjelstad Avatar
      Ole Henrik Skjelstad

      Have fixed the title now. Thanks for pointing that out! And thanks for kind words concerning the article.

  4. DavidEssex Avatar
    DavidEssex

    Suck my dick. Well, the bad thing is….. You’d enjoy it.

    1. Jrbdog Avatar
      Jrbdog

      I honestly can’t see how anyone could enjoy something so tiny.

      1. DavidEssex Avatar
        DavidEssex

        Oh. You’ve seen it? Didn’t think 8.5″ was small.

        1. Jrbdog Avatar
          Jrbdog

          I think you might have used the wrong side of the ruler ?

  5. crocolde Avatar
    crocolde

    lol then how can something or someone be evidenced when u must use cgi or make fake original just because you need to put brand out a frame, ok it’s same as u are everyday filmed in every store without your approval.. thats kiling all legitimate and original because bunch of nobody says that, where is freedom in photography or anything in this fake life!?

  6. Rob Mulally Avatar
    Rob Mulally

    The City scape with signage is ok as long as one company not more dominant than the other and no copywrited structure is hero of frame. But do your own research.