Is Scanning a Photo Illegal?

Photos are often treasured family keepsakes, but in an evolving digital world, print photos may not seem like the preferred way to preserve these memories. Scanning old family photos may seem like an obvious solution, as a digital file can easily be shared and isn’t prone to the physical wear and tear that a photograph is subject to. Before having photos scanned, there are some considerations to keep in mind.

When a photograph is first taken, the rights of the photograph belong to the creator of the photograph: the photographer. With professional family photos, such as images taken at a portrait studio, copyright belongs to the original photographer. Digitizing these photos and sharing them on platforms like blogs and social media can run into copyright protections. Unless the copyright has expired, the original photographer, or their successor, owns the rights to the photograph.

The Fair Use Act is a provision for copyright laws, which allow intellectual property, like images to be shared without infringing on the copyright. This can be a gray area legally, since it is up to the discretion of a judge or jury if a use is actually “fair.”

Generally, “Fair Use” is determined by a number of factors, such as:

  • The photographer’s permission
  • If the use is commercial or non-commercial
  • If the image is being used for educational purposes, criticism, research, or news-reporting
  • Whether your use will cause the copyright holder to lose money

So, are you legally allowed to scan a professionally taken family photo? It depends on the use of the photo, and whether or not it violates the Fair Use Act. It is safest to contact the photographer or copyright owner. With older photographs you may have to use the Photographer Registry Website to track down this information. When reproducing old photographs, it is recommended that you try to obtain permission from the copyright holder. If you are unable to find the copyright holder, you may have to determine if the use of the photograph falls under “fair use” as a legal way to reproduce the image.

Acro Photo Print Inc. wants to help preserve your memories for years to come. Call (929) 244-4322 to learn how our New York City printing services can help you protect your family photos and preserve them for generations to come.