legal help - use of environments for presentations

i work for a small manufacturing & design firm, every so often we send out new computer rendered concepts to current and prospective clients. if we were to place the renders in an environment scanned from a book or magazine, is it enough to put a copyright on the product itself, or must the source of the photo be credited as well as the original designer of the space (if known). if so, how should this be done? also, if the original image is altered, i.e. some objects digitally removed, does this make any difference?

also, if above proves to be a problem, is there any resources where stock photos can be purchased for a reasonable cost, or even better, free?

any feedback would be most helpful.

YOU work in a design firm and don’t know any of this yet? Lord.

“small manufacturing & design firm” can mean a lot of things, chocobo. Why don’t you drop the pretense and answer him in a thoughtful and constructive way. Or do you not have an answer either? I can admit that I don’t know, but I would assume that anything that is not yours and that is not implicitly defined as royalty free needs to be credited and / or paid for. But chocobo has posted here 18 times so he must know for sure. Of course, conkan, there are also resources all over the web for purchasing stock photography, and I’m sure they place their fair-use guidelines all over their respective websites. Good luck…


conkan, you may find Fair Use (FAQ) | U.S. Copyright Office of interest. Specifically, the sections on Derivative Works, , and Fair Use doctrine, .

Section 107 also sets out four factors to be considered in determining whether or not a particular use is fair:

the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;

the nature of the copyrighted work;

amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and

the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

The distinction between “fair use” and infringement may be unclear and not easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission.

If you really want to dig, check out Copyright Law of the United States | U.S. Copyright Office !

Copyright permission is granted by the original holder of the copyright. If a photograph involves copyrighted subject material, you have to seek permission from the copyright holder of the source material as well as from the photographer for the use of their work.

If you are unable to receive explicit permission from a source, whether from a direct request or as part of a licensing agreement (when purchasing stock images, for example), it is probably not worth the potential risk and inconvenience of using something and getting caught. Aditionally, neither alteration of a work, nor the inability to determine the copyright holder, absolve you of responsibility to the copyright holder. This is especially important to consider for commercial usage, such as yours.

For minimum hassle, I suggeset you look into/pony up some cash for royalty-free images! There are plenty of sources to be found through Google. Hope this helps!


That was a very cogent and thoughtful post. Thank you for your efforts!


I only like to post sarcastic and obvious items to make people more aware of what they are posting… Enjoy.

Thanks Hippa: I’ve wondered about that as well when using an image for a background.

I do a lot of digital renderings for retail designs and on occasion I get asked to green screen the rendering into an existing shot of the store or into a stock scene so the client can judge placement and scale.

Generally what I do is try to find something from my own photo library or go out with my digital camera and shoot some backdrops. For instance if someone wants to see how a storefront will look I’ll go find a nice existing store and shoot it from say 5-10 different angles then photoshop the rendering on top of it. Since I shot the photos I can do whatever I want with them.

If I need some very specific scene like mountains or whatever, I’ll go to a place like Corbis or Getty and snag some previews for the rough rendering noting the serial number and source. I’ll then render low res as a preview for the client. If they want me to do presentation grade work I’ll go back to Getty/Corbis to buy the actual artwork and then bill the client for it. We then have rights to use the image however we want, generally.

I try not to take random scans from books or the internet because the quality is crap and there is no way to get higher res, detailed files if you need them. Plus if the work ends up kicking ass it can end up in a magazine or ad club award somewhere and your chances of someone calling you out are exponentially higher.