Cosplay Photography Etiquette (Plus The Legal Stuff)

Welcome to a sharing on cosplay photography etiquette and some of the legal stuff. First, congratulations on showing interest in wanting to know more about etiquette and laws. These are the stuff that “normal people” will not give a sh*t about. Just having some interest goes to show that you care.

A quick disclaimer though – I am not a lawyer. Neither do I have a shiny halo over my head, nor have I attained level 99 nirvana. But as civilized human beings, there are common grounds and respect that we need to agree on. Read on!

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Etiquette Legal Stuff The End

 

 

ETIQUETTE

As much as some of these are “common sense”, it is sad to see some cosplay photographers not even have basic courtesy or respect. Convention or private shoots, here are some things to take note of.

 

1) ASK FOR PERMISSION BEFORE SHOOTING

Yes, cosplayers go to conventions (or organized shoots) willing to be photographed. But that does not mean that we can “ambush” them when they are resting or taking a toilet break. It does not hurt to ask for permission first.

Also, some cosplayers may have printed out their social media page on a placard. It is also kind of a courtesy call to ask them if they are willing to be tagged online – Even if it is an obvious answer. I usually use this as an opportunity to exchange contacts as well.

 

2) FACING REJECTIONS

If a cosplayer rejects a request for a shoot, then just let it be. They can be going out for lunch, need to answer a call, get some rest, attend to an emergency, or do whatever else private matters. Respect that, nothing to lose anyway.

 

3) COSPLAY IS NOT CONSENT

Some cosplayers may… dress up a little lesser, but that does not mean they are asking to be touched or harassed. If you want cosplayers to take a certain pose, show them pictures or demonstrate it yourself. I avoid physical contact and only disturb those whom I know very well. Otherwise, keep your hands to yourself.

 

 

4) NO SHAMING, NO RACISM, NO AWFUL REMARKS

Shaming is so common in the cosplay circle. “This character is supposed to be white”, “you are too skinny for this character”, “you don’t have the looks of a goddess”, “the props suck”, and “the costume is so inaccurate that it is an insult”. Need I go on?

Personally, I respect all cosplayers who take the effort to dress up. Bad props? Everyone needs to start somewhere. Inaccurate? There are genderbend and alternate characters. Cosplay is fun only because people get creative with it. No need to throw insults and bad remarks.

 

5) NO NEED TO STALK, EXCHANGE CARDS INSTEAD

Some shameless photographers will bug cosplayers to exchange contact numbers “for business matters”. Well nope, that is not the way to do it. The proper and smarter way is a softer social approach. Give compliments on their cosplay, and express interest in their future works.

Take some good photos, show your works, and exchange Facebook/Instagram/Twitter. Does not matter if you are a newbie or “just photographing for fun”. If you are serious about collaborations and “doing photography with each other”, print your own name card and exchange it with the cosplayers.

 

 

 

1) PHOTOGRAPHS ARE WORKS OF THE PHOTOGRAPHER

If an artist draws a painting, the painting belongs to the artist. If an author writes a novel, the novel belongs to the author. It is a simple formula, so if a photographer takes a photo, the photograph naturally belongs to the photographer.

It does not matter if it is a cosplay photo, a landscape photo, or of any subject. It is sad to see some younger cosplayers try to claim “ownership” over photos that the photographer has taken. As a cosplay photographer myself, I find it kind of insulting at times too…

One does not simply discredit the photographer and claim full ownership over it, it does not work that way. Even if it is a paid shoot, the photos are still the works of the photographer and nothing can change that fact. Period.

 

2) YOU ARE FREE TO SHARE YOUR OWN PHOTOS

As a photographer, you have the right to use your own photos for non-monetary, non-commercial purposes within reasonable limits. That is covered under fair use. Just what are the “reasonable limits” then? This kind of differs from country to country and places with different cultures, but generally:

  • You are free to share your own photos on social media – Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, etc…
  • You can use the photos on your own blog, of course.
  • Use your own photos in a personal photo album or portfolio.

But there are exceptions and some unwritten rules:

  • If it is paid work, the photographer will most likely not have the right to share the photos freely. The photos are still the works of the photographer, but the publishing rights belong to the company or whoever is paying.
  • If the cosplayer is uncomfortable with the photos being shared, it is better to take them down. Even though you can leave it as it is legally, there are still ways around such as filing a lawsuit for harassment or defamation.

So yeah, laws and ethics work in a 2 ways manner. Not everything can be written down in black and white.

 

 

3) DO NOT PUBLISH WITHOUT PERMISSION!

As with the fair use law in most countries, the photographer has the right to share and use the photo for general purposes. But to be fair to the cosplayer/talent/model, the photographer also does not have the rights to publish it for commercial and monetary intentions:

  • Publishing the cosplay photo in a magazine (newspaper or any publications) without the consent of the cosplayer.
  • Making and selling prints without permission.
  • Make a photobook and sell it.

Yes, the photo belongs to the photographer, but it is a different story once money is involved. The law is balanced, and it protects the cosplayer as well. If you want to sell the photo for money, make sure that you pay the cosplayer (or get consent).

To formalize things, make sure that the cosplayer signs a model release form, and fully understands that you are using the photo for commercial purposes.

 

4) ON USING THE WORKS OF OTHER PEOPLE

The fair use law does not just cover your own works, it also covers the way you use the works of other people.

  • You can share the works of other photographers, as it is.
  • Do not remove the watermark or edit the photo of other photographers in any way, unless you have permission.
  • Do not claim the works of other photographers to be your own, as with my previous point about cosplayers claiming ownership. Always credit the original photographer and cosplayer if possible.
  • Do not publish and sell the works of other photographers without consent.
  • Do not use the images and works of other photographers/artists on your own without permission.

 

 

5) COPYRIGHT, COPYLEFT, PUBLIC DOMAIN

While we are still on the topic of using the works of other people, I shall keep this final point for the difference between copyright, copyleft, and public domain. These are commonly used terms, but also commonly misunderstood.

  • Copyright: The photographer holds on to all the rights of the photo, that is, all rights reserved. Other people can share the photo as covered under fair use. But cannot claim it to be their own, publish it, sell it, or use it for any commercial purposes.
  • Copyleft: The relaxed version of copyright, also called “creative commons”. Depending on the photographer, the photo can be released for personal and/or commercial use. There may also be some strings attached, such as crediting the original photographer. So be careful with creative commons. You don’t always have the right to publish a copyleft photo.
  • Public domain: The photographer has given up on the rights to the photo, you are free to use it however you wish. Sell it, burn it, eat it, you don’t even have to credit the original photographer. However, there is only one condition – You cannot claim it to be your own work.

That is the gist of it, but there is a caveat. What if there is a public domain photo of an identifiable person in it? Even though the photographer has permission to release it, that does not mean that the person agreed to be published in all kinds of funky publications. So yep, this is still a grey area. Whatever photos that you use or release, do it with careful consideration.

 

THE END

We have come to the end of this guide, and of course, this is not the most accurate “law binding” document. But I still hope that it has helped you to better understand the “boring law stuff” in cosplay photography, and help you stay out of trouble with the law monsters.

If there are parts that I got wrong, or if there is stuff that you wish to add on, please feel free to comment below. Good luck and happy shooting!

5 thoughts on “Cosplay Photography Etiquette (Plus The Legal Stuff)”

  1. I have been told by a lawyer you can not sell a cosplay photo as the the character the cosolayer is portraying is copyrighted. Not even as an editorial image. Only in Japan is that allowed.

    1. I believe that is partially correct. I remember some years ago, a law was passed in Japan to recognize cosplay as “copyrighted material”. People can still cosplay for fun, but selling cosplay photos in whatever format will involve paying royalties to the “original creator” (AKA greed has no boundaries). But Japanese laws do not apply internationally. Some cosplayers I know are still selling prints and doing Patreon.

  2. As an SF photographer since 1973, I’ve had many experiences with some of situations you mention. In one case, I was the official photographer for the masquerade at an SF convention. People posed for pictures, knowing they were being photographed. I had the photos on display, and one lady who had posed for several photos said, “You aren’t selling those, are you! I don’t want my photos sold!” So, I took them down. She then had the gaul to ask me, “How much are they?” to which I responded, “They’re not for sale. Have a nice day!”

    In another case, there was a large gathering of photographers taking photos of contestants at a convention masquerade. One contestant was wearing a chain mail bikini, with no support and nothing underneath it, and on top of that, she was ‘gravitationally challenged.’ She turned away from us for the photographers on the far side, we got a view of her chain mail bikini chain disappearing down her butt crack. The guy next to me looked on in disbelief, and the three behind me were stifling nervous laughter. They didn’t want her to hear them. I did NOT take a photo of her “bad side,” and to this day, NO ONE will ever see that photo! My job as a photographer is to make the costumer look as good as possible. That was NOT a possibility for this individual. I heard later, she’d thrown a physical, screaming tantrum when she did not win the masquerade! So glad I missed that!

    At one recent convention, I had one of the convention runners walk up to me and state, “Send me all your photos!” I declined, and was SOOOO tempted to ask her how she’d feel if I asked her to send me ALL HER COSTUMES! Everyone should be respected, and so should their work!

    I have had more than one occasion where my work was taken and used illegally, out of context, and published by someone else. The most recent was someone who was the wearer of a costume I’d made, and she was promoting herself as a costume designer using my work, and my copyrighted photos! I got her on copyright violation. She took the photos down. Most people don’t look at the web host’s rules of posting. Most say that you must be the photographer or have the photographer’s written permission to post. If not, and the photographer gets no response with a cease and desist letter, they can sue the person who is illegally posting it, and/or the web host can yank the site entirely. ALWAYS GET PERMISSION!

  3. Question on cosplay photography:
    Is it okay for a photographer to accept a photog session with another cosplayer with the same exact character at the same exact venue that one cosplayer originaly paid and had with the same photographer?
    Does that make sense? If not, or need clarification please email me at REMOVED TO PREVENT SPAM.

    1. Well, that’s not illegal. But this is a political problem, not an ethical one. The paid client will probably not like it, post some sh*t online. The photographer then gets a negative reputation and maybe less business. I will advise shooting at a different location, or at least do things “a little differently”.

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