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  • Photo Repair Pro

Copyrights: The short answer (plus Q&A)

Updated: May 13, 2020

We are often asked, can we repair a copyrighted photo? The answer is simple: NO. 

We adhere to a very strict Copyright Compliance policy that has been written to  to never knowingly infringe upon any intellectual rights - including copyrights - of others.  Under no  circumstance will we ever remove another's copyright claim including, but not limited to words like 'Do Not Copy,’ ‘All Rights Reserved,’ ’Proof' or Studio/Photographer name, and markings such as © TM ®.  Works of authorship, such as photographs, paintings, books, articles, drawings, computer software and other such materials, may be covered by copyright laws.

“All rights reserved” means just that: ALL rights reserved.

Q: What is a copyright exactly?

A: In the simplest definition, a copyright is the financial right to make copies, or deviate works, from intellectual property claimed by another. Copyrights protect the financial rights of their authors.

Q: How do I know if a work is copyrighted?

A: To claim a copyright, the marking must be obvious and visible. 

Ok, but WHAT IF I cannot find the author, or the marking is simply a word like ‘PROOF” ?

A: In this case, it is known as an “Orphan work” Orphan works define materials with a copyright however the author may be impossible to find, or deceased, for example. In this case, the copyright remains valid.

Ok, but WHAT IF The author has been dead for X number of years? Or, if X number of years has passed since the copyright was claimed?

A: Here, the answer is very complex because the laws that govern any copyright are the laws that were in effect at the time the copyright was granted! And yes, the copyright laws have changed over the years. So in fact, many different laws cover copyrighted works. It is for this reason, that we have a strict policy to never work on copyrighted materials.

Ok, but WHAT IF I know the copyright holder is dead. May I make a copy then?

A: No. Copyrights are transferrable and also inheritable. So think about a famous photographer, such as Ansel Adams, who is now gone. His work remains copyrighted material of his estate.

Ok, but WHAT IF I am the copyright holder?  Or, I have a signed copyright release letter from the copyright holder?

A: Well, we are not lawyers, nor do we want to purport to be,  as we just fix photos. It is for this reason that we don’t want to ever argue the ‘ins-and-outs’ of copyright law. Because of this, we have a strict policy to never work on copyrighted materials.

Ok, but WHAT IF there is a signature on the image? Is a signature alone a copyright?

A: No, but it’s a ‘grey area’. It’s grey because the author may have thought it was a claim to a copyright. It could also be, for example, an autograph. In this case, however, to protect the author, we treat this signature as if it were a copyright and will never remove a signature.

Ok, but WHAT IF There is a copyright in the background of the photo?

A: Well, if it is a prominent component of the photo being showcased/ part of the subject material of the image, we will treat this as a copyright. 

Ok, but WHAT IF I’m not sure, and also…you’re not sure whether a copyright exists?

A: In many instances, the lack of copyright protection may be obvious, such as, for example, with family snapshot photos. If there is any doubt whatsoever as to whether a photograph is protected by copyright, our policy is to presume that a copyright exists and immediately terminate the transaction. 

In the case that you should provide to us a copyrighted photo, your order will be promptly refunded, and we will send you an email explaining that this decision was made to support our copyright policy, and the intellectual rights of the author.

Q: Are you a lawyer?

A: No, we are not lawyers, and are only providing generally available information about copyrights. However, because we restore, retouch, and otherwise manipulates photographs we must be particularly careful to inform our customers that we cannot use photographs that are protected by copyright without first obtaining permission.

Q: Where can I read more information about Copyright Laws?

A: These laws are clearly defined in Title 17 of the Copyright Law of the United States.

In the end, we do have  advice for you when submitting a photo for photo restoration, or retouching, or recreating. Our simple rule of thumb is: "When in doubt, throw it out" and presume the copyright is valid.

For professional assistance with any photo restoration, retouching, or recreation, please visit us at

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