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Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Photography copyright explained

One issue that lifestyle photographers keep coming up against is copyright ownership. In recent years it has been added to the list of things to ask your potential wedding photographer for. I feel quite strongly about this and have been disheartened to see so many photographers giving copyright away to clients. And a little surprised - which generally leads me to believe that many photographers really don’t understand what copyright is and the issues involved.

A professional wedding or portrait photographer should never hand over copyright to the images. In order to understand why that’s the case here is a brief overview:

What is copyright?

What it isn’t is the right to copy a photograph. It is actually a complex piece of legislation which is constantly evolving. It exists to try and protect photographs against unauthorised copying and also allows photographers to permit the use of images for payment. The system is in place to try and guarantee respect for the photographer’s economic and moral rights.

There is no system for registering copyright in a photograph in the UK - it exists automatically from the moment the image is created. Copyright lasts for the life of the photographer plus 70 years.

If the photos are of me why don’t I own the copyright?

In recent years clients have started to argue that having paid the photographer to take the images, they own both the photograph and the copyright in it.

In essence what you are paying for is the photographer’s skill, creativity, for their time and expenses and the right to use the photographs. It is important to note that the ownership of the copyright is quite separate from the ownership of the actual physical work.

When you commission a photographer your end product is known as the ‘goods’ – whether this means a print, a digital file, framed image or finished album.

Some photographers will provide a disc of images for your own use included in their packages and some might charge extra. In both cases you should not pass on the images to any of your suppliers without clearing it with your photographer first. Make sure that the terms of the licence are clearly set out in a signed contract and that you have been granted permission to get the images reproduced at a print lab.

A licence that states ‘personal use’ does not allow you to put them into the public domain – think Facebook or similar online networks. By doing this you are publishing or distributing the photographs and opening the door for them be taken and used for economic gain without anyone’s knowledge. If you really want to put some of your photos on Facebook or share them on email then talk to your photographer about this and perhaps you can agree on low-res files that are clearly watermarked with the photographer’s copyright.

If a photographer does decide to assign their copyright then they will have no further interest in, or control over, their work and there may be no further opportunity to earn income from it. It means that a bride could sell her wedding images to her wedding venue, florist or dress designer for profit.

A less contentious but equally important issue for me also relates to retaining control of the quality of how my work is reproduced – many consumer print services do not have exacting standards and this can have a hugely detrimental effect on the final image.

If you would like more information you can visit the website developed by
Sal Shuel, a former administrator of the British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies: www.salshuel.co.uk offers a comprehensive guide to what can and can't be done.

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