Based in UK.

I am a graphic designer and during lockdown have been practicing my photoshop skills by digitally manipulating images of some local 'celebrities'.

The digital manipulations mostly involve adding tattoos to the person, changing their skin and appearance dramatically but the person is still recognisable.

Having shown these image manipulations to some friends they have suggested I setup an Instagram to promote my skills, and potentially take on paid requests and / or sell my existing work.

This is just a hobby so I would rather not get sued! I'm not sure if I need to contact the person in the image directly, or the owner of the image, not even sure how to find that out.

I've read that as long as I make it clear that the image is not official or linked to the person it should be ok. Also if the image is a parody or a criticism, or something that is highly transformative, that's also ok. Would my image manipulations fall within this category?

My questions are, what steps must I take in order to ensure the following is all legal;

  • setup an Instagram and post my photoshop work
  • accept commissions / requests and send this image back to a customer in digital format
  • sell my existing work

Any advice would be appreciated!

  • 1
    Do you have a license from the holder of the picture's copyright?!
    – Trish
    Jan 26, 2021 at 15:50
  • No, that's what i'd like to know how to do I suppose. Currently I just practice on random photos and royalty free ones. I know nothing about this area which is why I was hoping for some professional advice
    – jonboy
    Jan 26, 2021 at 15:52
  • 2
    Please read law.stackexchange.com/tags/copyright/info and possibly imporve on your question - Some of the linked questions there will answer subsets. Then refine your question. Until such refinement, I vote to close.
    – Trish
    Jan 26, 2021 at 15:55
  • To expand on what Trish said, if you can narrow the issue of your question down to a single issue it may be a lot more answerable. Feb 9, 2021 at 20:05

1 Answer 1


There are several legal issues regarding this kind of image manipulation.


The first is Copyright. From the description, the modified images are derivative works. Making or distributing derivative works requires the permission of the holder of the copyright on the original (source) work. Some open source licenses (such as the Creative Commons licenses that do not include an ND clause) grant such permission in advance. Otherwise permission must be requested from, and granted by, the copyright holder or the holder's agent.

In the absence of permission this is copyright infringement. If advertised widely for a fee, a copyright suit is more likely, and might result in sizable damages. The holder might not grant permission, or might charge a fee. A lack of any answer from the holder must be treated as a "no".

Right of Publicity

In some jurisdictions a person has a "right of publicity" in his or her own image or likeness. This generally means that photos or images of the person cannot be used commercially without permission from the subject. In some places this right is limited to the use of such images in advertising, not as art subjects themselves.

I don't know the extent of such rights in England and Wales, or elsewhere in the UK. In the US this varies by state. But if such rights apply, use of such images without permission can result in a suit and significant damages.


If showing an image of a person with added tattoos would tend to bring that person into disrepute, or make others think badly of that person, for example if the added tattoos were Nazi or gang symbols, then distributing such an altered image might be defamation. This would only apply if people actually thoguht the tattoos indicated that person's choice or attitude, or if reasonable people might think so.


Before making this a business, even a hobby business, one would do well to consult a lawyer with IP expertise. There are significant legal risks here, which are increased by doing this for profit, and advertising it on the net. It might well be that in many cases appropriate permissions can be obtained free or cheaply, but it is not safe to assume this.

  • Thanks for this, it's very helpful. I might just stick to improving my photoshop skills and forget about promoting my skills! I see so many people doing it online and I tought it was easy / inexpensive, I guess not.
    – jonboy
    Jan 26, 2021 at 16:14
  • 1
    @jonboy Some people may just be risking suit, assuming the subject or copyright holder won't bother to sue. In many cases this may be inexpensive, if permission is simply requested. If you find this helpful, you can accept the answer by clicking the check mark (aka the tick mark) to the left of the answer. Jan 26, 2021 at 16:17
  • 1
    @DavidSiegel you should deal with defamation- depending what’s on the tattoos (e.g. swastikas).
    – Dale M
    Jan 26, 2021 at 21:56
  • @Dale good point Jan 26, 2021 at 22:05
  • 1
    @Trish That might be considered in bad taste, but I don't think it would constitute defamation in a legal sense. Defamation must be a false but purportedly factual statement. No oine is goign to think such a picture implies that MLK was actually white, or Hitlrer black. Besides which defamation claims die with the subject. Jan 27, 2021 at 0:17

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