Copyright – Who Needs It?

written by Carolyn Pongracz, In Bloom Photography – – June 22, 2010

So, there you have it.  You’ve gotten married and your photographer has just handed you a disc of all your precious images documenting this huge day in your life!  How exciting!  You trot off to your favorite photo lab with your disc in hand; you’re going to get some prints made!  Then up at the counter, the photo lab technician notices you’re holding a disc with a professional photographer’s logo, and the question comes up:

“Do you have permission to print these pictures?”…  Well, do you?

Photography contracts should be very clear on where the copyright and permissions lie in the use of the photos from your wedding (or any professional photo shoot for that matter).  And the laws that surround copyright are different in the USA vs. Canada, so it’s important you’ve got the right information.  In the United States, copyright is given to the artist or creator of the work by default.  However in Canada, the copyright automatically belongs to the person who commissions (ie. pays for) the work.  That’s you, the client!

Congratulations!  But wait… what does that mean?

If there is no copyright clause in your contract then you can assume you’re the proud owner of the images, and can, by law, do whatever you’d like with the photos.  You can sell them to Pepsi for their latest ad campaign… alter the photos all you like… purchase billboards to display your photos… and you never have to give any credit to your photographer.  Hooray!

But, you can probably see why a professional photographer might not want you to do those things.  Photographers like to hold on to that copyright so they can continue to use your images in their portfolio, attract prospective clients, and retain the right to creatively enhance your photos if you should request it (among many other reasons).  More simply put, we want the credit for creating the work, the same as an author wants his name printed on the cover of his book.  We can control a little more how the image is used and who’s profiting on it.  That’s why we put copyright clauses in our contracts.  By law, we have to specifically address who is going to be the owner of the copyright after the work is completed – otherwise, it defaults to the client and we no longer have any control over where the photo ends up.

But what does that mean to you?  Are we holding the images hostage and forcing you to purchase prints and albums through us?  Not at all!  Keep reading…

Although your photographer might be holding on to the copyright, you’re not left out in the cold.  What you should be receiving is a “Copyright Release” as part of your photography package.  This is a simple form that your photographer will create, saying that you do indeed have permission to print photos included on your disc for personal use only.  That means you can get enlargements made at any photo lab of your choice, have the photos printed on your favorite coffee mug, create your own thank you cards or any other personal creation!  Any regular personal use is fine.  You just can’t use the images for profit of any kind, claim the work is yours, or alter the images yourself.  For most people, this is fine.  Not too many couples set out with plans to use their wedding photos in any of those ways — they just want to be able to print a few photos for their apartment walls.  So with a Copyright Release, everybody wins.  The client can make prints at their leisure; the photographer has control over the business-side of the images.  No hostage-taking at all!

So while you’re out and about, shopping for photographers for the next big event in your life, be sure to ask what the photographer’s copyright policy is!  It’s in everyone’s best interests!

 ~ Carolyn
April 13, 2012 - 9:05 am

David schuurman - Great post Carolyn. It explains simply and effectively why the copyright remains with the creator in most cases.