Sharing Is Caring…

Here at TJDS, we have some pretty strict guidelines for utilizing and sharing the images that we create; the literature to explain our guidelines looks pretty daunting attached to an email, but we hope it isn’t taken that way. Our goal at the studio as well as around town is to educate everyone from artists just getting started to our clients (since one can be just as misinformed as the other on many issues) on the proper ways to credit and distribute creative work.

One of the most important, yet frequently overlooked aspects of the creative process is providing appropriate credit to the artist(s) who create. Another overlooked aspect is the need to respect artistic vision and not altering the art from it’s original form. Hopefully this post will mitigate a lot of unpleasant conversations about why an individual, company, celebrity, organization, etc. would need to give credit to the artist they are working with when utilizing original artwork. Why so much emphasis on artistic credit? Because there are so many ways proper credit can benefit our business and literally no way it could negatively impact a client’s. As a photographer the following points will largely apply to my chosen medium but what I’ll attempt to explain(without pissing too many people off) is fairly universal across the artistic spectrum.

So here goes.

1First of all, there’s no reason, NO REASON AT ALL not to credit the artist who created the original work. A lack of credit doesn’t make you look cooler or your post more engaging to the public. All it does is piss off the artist and make them question whether or not they’ll ever work with you again, I’ve seen it too many times. This is especially infuriating when the artist was working for the “exposure” rather than monetary compensation. If you don’t know how to properly tag, credit, or link to the artist–just ask. We will happily walk you through it.

Sidenote: Proper credit on social media can make or break an artist these days… I’ve received countless inquiries and billed dozens of jobs after some of my absolute favorite clients gave the studio proper credit on instagram posts.  Plus, those jobs have involved over fifteen other artists, vendors and contractors to complete.  I’ve even had a couple beers bought for me at a bar… CHEERS!!

2There is a 100% chance that when a client I’ve worked with filters or changes one of my images in any way after it’s been finalized, they will receive a phone call; first from Jules, then from myself and finally from my lawyer. Once a finalized work is given to the client it is a completed piece of art and should be treated as if it were framed and hanging on a wall in the Louvre. If I spend 45min and numerous edits making sure your hair is the perfect shade of “straw”, not yellow, not blonde, not platinum, but fucking straw and you toss Valencia over it, I’m going to be miffed. Although there are a few exceptions to this rule, ignorance is not one of them. Acceptable exceptions are, cropping, resizing and the inclusion of text. In the event of an exception, ANY and ALL changes that need to be made should be completed by or approved by the artist before being made public. There may be an additional cost associated with the additional work but I guarantee that cost is less per hour than what a decent lawyer will charge.

Sidenote: It is important to realize here as well that even if the artist is being compensated for creating the work, clients do not own the artwork and thus cannot alter it.  This goes for all artistic mediums. What was actually purchased was a license for use.  Jules will explain licensing in greater detail in an upcoming blog post.

3Now some photographers will toss what the industry calls a “watermark” onto an image because they have either lost all faith that a client will ever give them appropriate credit or believe(incorrectly, I might add) that someone of note will see the watermark and seek out the creator. I promise you this won’t happen and you will still look like an idiot. Here are a few examples of what this unfortunate practice might look like on my own images.

© James Douglas Commercial Photographer Cleveland Ohio Portrait Photography -

Above: Terrible watermarks. 

In my opinion placing a watermark on an image is the photographic equivalent of drawing a mustache on the Mona Lisa, which by the way is an actual crime. We also don’t live in a world of unique images anymore. This “stunning and incomprehensibly gorgeous horizon” that I spent hundreds(more like 2) of hours perfecting is only one of 60,900,000 images that happen to feature an Ocean Horizon. Please Google Pretty Ocean Horizon Photo, if my image above is the first one there, even if it’s in the top 1000… it’s all yours. Any lazy blogger would simply skip over the watermarked image and use the one right next to it, so now even fewer people will ever see my “iconic one of a kind masterpiece.” All that being said… there is only one reason and one reason only to ever watermark an image and that’s when the image is being delivered to the client as an “Unfinished Proof”, in which case they should also only be watermarked with the words “Unfinished Proof.” This is a common and even I’ll admit a somewhat necessary evil for wedding or headshot photographers. Images in this stage are absolutely not for sharing or displaying anywhere publicly. In much the same way a fire department would not let you back into your house if it is still on fire, as they have yet to finish their job, please allow us to do the same.

Sidenote: A) On the client side of this equation, if you are receiving images with watermarks on them from your photographers it means that they don’t trust you to keep them to yourself or utilize them appropriately. B) There is no scenario in which an unfinished watermarked proof will serve your needs better than a finished piece of art.

4If you are contacted at any time by the artist regarding something being improperly used, manipulated, or miscredited immediately remedy the situation to your best ability. There is no side of this argument that will ever go in favor of anyone other than the copyright owner of the artwork. Only that individual has the ability to dictate how, when, and why their art is used. Unless the artist signed a Work for Hire agreement or handed you a notarized piece of paper bearing a visual representation of the artwork as well as an original signature(which I’ll bet you an ice cold six pack of Great Lakes Finest they didn’t), I can assure you that you do not own said copyright. I will say this again in a italicized and highlighted font for proper emphasis… unless the artist signed a work for hire agreement or you’ve received a signed and notorized document bearing an original signature(not a photocopied, faxed, photographed, or emailed copy but the actual piece of paper that the artist pressed their pen into) as well as a visual representation of the original work… you have ZERO rights to the aforementioned artwork.


In the history of all copyright lawsuits not once has a creator of an original work been forced to sign over his copyright.  EVER.  I stress this point because I’ve been threatened in the past by corporations and extremely misguided individuals, usually on fancy letterhead with big words that I honestly still don’t quite understand. What I do understand are my rights as an artist, which means myself, the other artists I’ve told these horror stories to, and friends have all had and continue to have a solid laugh at the expense of those who have threatened myself and my livelihood.  It’s exactly this understanding that has kept my lawyer in a nice house and me in business for nearly 14 years.

Sidenote: The copyright for an image doesn’t end with an artist’s death. Copyright protection remains in effect for 50 years after the creator has expired before entering into the public domain. If you are young enough to wait around, please don’t plan on killing me as a shortcut to using of my images as you please; you’d still have to wait till 2065.

5When using imagery, music, designs etc… that you didn’t personally create, I suggest using a small amount of common sense as well. If you question, even for a moment, that the artist might not be 100% on board with what you’re doing–contact them. They’ll be thrilled that you did and more than likely falling all over themselves to make any changes you request as quickly as humanly possible. I know we here at TJDS do.

Sidenote: If you as an artist suspect that your images are being used inappropriately you can search for them across google using  It’s by no means definitive or entirely comprehensive but can give you a pretty good idea of where some of your work is being featured across the web. 

Finally… as artists we’re pretty used to being taken advantage of and typically have a hard time speaking up for ourselves. Pretty ironic since the law is so heavily favored on our side and we have every reason to do so. Thing is, sometimes when we do exercise our knowledge it can be jarring or even off-putting for a client/friend to hear, but that may only be because they’ve never heard it before. Please follow these guidelines when sharing or using our works so everyone can benefit from their dissemination. We artists will be so much happier and I guarantee you will be too.

–  J

For any additional info or questions concerning this topic please contact


  1. Tamala Felts Nov 10, 2015 - 10:57 AM

    wonderful post domkisleyt, very informative. I wonder why the other specialists of this sector don’t notice this. You should continue your writing. I am confident, you have a huge readers’ base already!

    • James Douglas Nov 10, 2015 - 06:14 PM

      You’d be surprised… there’s actually quite a bit of noise out there and our audience is actually much smaller than you’d think. Feel free to share the post around if you think it would benefit the creatives in your network.

  2. Chris Jan 25, 2016 - 05:53 PM

    “There is no side of this argument that will ever go in favor of anyone other than the copyright owner of the artwork. Only that individual has the ability to dictate how, when, and why their art is used.”

    What about fair use? You can’t make such a categorical assertion without admitting there are exceptions. The news can certainly publish any image that’s newsworthy without the owner’s permission. And if a blogger publishes an image without the creator’s permission, the blogger can do so in order to comment on it, even if the only comment is “it stinks.” And even that the doctrine of fair use has exceptions.

    • James Douglas Feb 01, 2016 - 02:43 PM

      You’re not wrong with what you mentioned when it comes to “fair use.” I did clarify in the sentence before that “If you are contacted at any time by the artist regarding something being improperly used, manipulated, or miscredited immediately remedy the situation to your best ability.” I would say that fair use of an image would not fall under improper use, manipulated, or miscredited… and I imagine that a judge would agree. When it comes to transformative use… that’s basically a judgement call but it should be pretty obvious who is in the wrong when the courts say an image must be changed over 80%.

  3. Kristin Feb 27, 2016 - 09:34 AM

    Oh my gosh, it’s a never ending battle! Why is this so hard for people to understand?! Even worse is when they edit the image, then throw their own crappy watermark on your image with their crappy edit!

    • Bobbe May 09, 2016 - 12:57 PM

      Most help articles on the web are inaccurate or ineceorhnt. Not this!

  4. Dyek Dec 13, 2016 - 04:19 AM

    Hey Mate! Mind if I use your statement? Some clients are needed to be enlighted. Can’t find rights words to say. Thanks in advance. Cheers 🍻


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