Stock photography is a platform where a plethora of images clicked by a photographer is available to be licensed by paying an amount to the person who produced the photo and the agency which makes use of it in different ways. The original author or owner has exclusive right over his/her work hence holds the copyright of the work. These images a generally used for commercial purposes, personal purposes, and on social media. Photography is a very important element in politics; especially since there is a lot of talking done to communicate with the masses; it becomes important to bring an interesting element into campaigning and drawing people's attention. So, it is a commonly accepted norm of including political photography. Nowadays most companies offer free stock images; with the help of Google it is quite possible to download millions of photos but subject to certain restrictions

The Concept of Fair Use:

Fair use allows a third person a limited use of the copyrighted image/ video/ music unless and otherwise authorized by the original and true owner; i.e. The person can make use of the original author's work only to an extent. Fair use has been a topic of debate when it comes to print media or publications. Political Parties generally do not have a clear understanding of copyright laws that are applied to these images and the consequences of using a third party's work without obtaining the necessary licenses. The concept of fair use is also somewhat vague as the decisions of the Apex Courts differ from case to case and the legal implications are different from one country to another. Most candidates who use Stock images generally download them from the internet without looking into the copyright sign given below assuming that they are available for the public domain but they fail to understand that these stock photos are protected under copyright laws

Copyright Infringement:

A copyrighted Stock image that is used without obtaining consent is a copyright infringement even if it is for a Politician. Especially when image specifically prohibits political use; it is important to pay dues to the agency running the sites. So any person who manages to make use of photos on Google must think of the potential problems of litigation and copyright laws. In India, the person who infringes the work of the original author is covered under Section 63 of the Copyright Act with a minimum imprisonment of up to 6 months in prison. Section 107 of the US Copyright Act list four important factors that determine infringement which is

  1. The purpose of use (for a commercial or non-commercial purpose)
  2.  The nature of the copyrighted material
  3. The portion of work used from the original work
  4. The value of the work in the potential market

 There have been many instances where Political Parties have made use of images from sites without reading through the terms. This has been received with major backlash from the general public. Some controversial cases include:

  • In this case, where a Photographer filed a lawsuit against the Republic National Committee for using a photo in a mailer of Quist wearing a cowboy hat on an empty stage was ruled against her by the Federal Court stating that it was not a copyright infringement as she had received a full compensation amount for the image and it was good enough for a Fair Use. She was denied any damages on the fact that the RNC was not obligated to ask her permission as the image was available for download on Facebook without the terms of copyright
  • Recently two wildlife photographers had sued Mr. Trump for using the photo of the infamous bald eagle for one of his political endeavors which received much negative publicity. It was taken from a site without obtaining the permission of the concerned people and also reused in Multiple flyers. It was a clear case of infringement for which compensation was paid and settled
  • In another case, the Governor of Alaska Sarah Paulin had posted a picture of the famous 9/ 11 photo without giving the original newspaper publishers any credit for their work. A lawsuit was filed for infringement and she was asked to remove the picture from her social media handles. Even after the event, she received a lot of criticism for stealing various pictures from different sites

 In today's digital world it is a hard task to find high-quality images and connect to people by conveying promises through visual forms. Even if it is a political campaign; they must obtain licenses, go through the terms of copyright, and must give due credit to the original author and their work

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We speak the language of Technology & Internet. We understand how the law interacts with Technology & Internet. Cyber Crime Chambers is a boutique firm specializing in internet laws and digital forensic evidence.


B.A., B.L., (Hons) IPDP., (London)
Pgd IPR., Pgd Cyber Law., Msc., (IT)
Advocate, Madras High Court

Karthikeyan, is a renowned cyber law expert, who is also the Managing Partner of Law Office of Karthikeyan, a reputed law firm based in Chennai.

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