Is Sharing Lightroom Presets Illegal? The Legal Lowdown.

What’s a Lightroom preset?

If you’re unfamiliar with Lightroom photo presets, think Instagram filters that you can purchase to use through Adobe Lightroom. Many photographers, bloggers, and influencers sell presets online. Purchasers of the presets use them to step up their photo game. We’re all looking for that perfectly curated, on theme Instagram page. Lightroom Presets can help with that.

Like all digital products, presets are easy to share with friends. This presents a legal quandary. The creators of presets create their digital products to put into the market in order to profit. The creation is the intellectual property of the creator. 

Think back to the days when we all borrowed our friend’s new CDs. Everyone wanted to get their hands on the new Backstreet Boys (or insert your favorite late 90s singer) CD to take it home and burn their own copy. In that context, borrowing a CD and listening to it, is perfectly fine. However, we’re all aware that copying the music was technically not legal.

Digital products are a bit from CDs different. They’re evergreen. They can be easily shared. Things like presets are intangible goods, so they are more like song downloads.

One article on Lifewire accurately summarizes the answer to the question of whether downloading songs from the Internet is ok. “Unfortunately, with very few exceptions, [it is not legal to download free songs]. The songs are copyright protected and the owner of the copyright is owed compensation for the song. If you find music on the Internet for free, the individual or business sharing the music is most likely violating the law and if you download the song without paying for it you will be stealing.”

Lightroom presets, like songs, are not physical products which can only sit in the hands of one person at a time. Therefore, we have laws in place that protect creators’ rights to digital products, so they don’t spread like wildfire. Otherwise, how would people be incentivized to create?


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The legal stuff

Aside from copyright law, digital products are typically protected through contract law. With the majority of digital products we purchase, we agree to terms and conditions that specify licensing rights. Typically, we do this by checking a box that states “I agree that I have read the terms and conditions.” If you actually click the terms – don’t worry, we’re all guilty of skipping that part – then you will usually find a paragraph on licensing. That paragraph will usually explain that you only have a license to use that product yourself. You may not share it with others.

If someone purchases a preset, and agree to terms with these conditions, they are clearly violating a contract by sharing the preset with others. The trick for creatives is discovering when people are sharing their presets. If someone is violating the terms, the most common first step is to retain an attorney to send those individuals cease and desist letters before pursuing legal action. However, before that, it’s worth trying to informally reach out to individuals to ask them to cease sharing the presets and for those who have downloaded them without paying to delete the presets.


key tips for the creativepreneur

Here are my key tips for selling digital products like presets.

First, you must know and accept that people will get their hands on your creation no matter how hard you work to stop it. Accept this fact to maintain your sanity and entrepreneurial spirit.

Second, make sure you have terms and conditions as part of your purchasing process.

Third, make sure those terms discuss licensing. Fourth, work with an attorney draft a cease and desist template letter to streamline your dispute process.


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