ASPP Arrow – Fair Use in an Online World

The Fair Use Doctrine in an Online World

Christopher Sandberg, February 2015



Imagine you just saw a great image on a website where photographers can post shots depicting “wholesome young Christian family activities”, and you immediately thought of a way to use part of that image in a project you are struggling to complete for a client. The photo captured a family playing badminton at a park, and you can see exactly how to cut out just the father as he stretches to make a backhand return. Your project is a collage of 30-ish gay men in various athletic activities, and this addition will let you finish the collage. There are no identifying notes on the photo as to who the photographer might be, or how to get hold of her/him. Since you are only going to use one part of the image, and you are under a tight deadline, you decide to go ahead. A month later, the client calls you because they have just been sued by the photographer for using her shot of the father as part of the client’s nationwide online ad campaign for condoms. Are you in trouble?

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Christopher Sandberg is a landscape photographer and partner in the Minneapolis law firm of Lockridge Grindal Nauen PLLP and is currently serving as president of ASPP’s Midwest Chapter.

This general discussion of the topic is not intended to be the giving of legal advice and no client relationship is intended to be created thereby.

This article is © Christopher Sandberg 2015; all rights reserved.