I’m often presented some variation of this question: You: “I bought this really cool photograph at an art show. I love it and want to use this image as the logo for my start-up. No problem, right?” Me: “Wrong. Big problem.”
Here’s why: copyright means just that – the right to copy. Under the U.S. copyright law, the copyright owner holds a bundle of rights to the image represented in the photo. One of these rights is the right to copy it. Now, you may be able to license it from the photographer (assuming she hasn’t transferred her rights), or perhaps even use it for free with a simple attribution, but ownership of the thing itself – the tangible photo – does not transfer any right to copy the image found in the photo.
If you’re dead set on using that protected image, you had better manipulate it in such ways as to transform the image into something new, a “fair use” of the original. And you may not know whether your new work is a fair use of the old until a court decides. It’s clear that the boundaries of fair use are expanding, but there is no bright line test or checklist to consult to know in advance.