“Can we get the copyright to the photos?”
Let’s say you hire a photographer to capture your wedding.
You are keen to know exactly what you are getting, and you want to ensure that you will get the copyright to the photos at the end. Perhaps you have heard that not all photographers will allow this.
Firstly you must understand that no professional wedding photographer will ever hand over the copyright to your photographs.
Secondly you must understand that copyright and licensing are two different things. A photographer almost always retains copyright, unless they have explicitly signed this away, for example if they are taking photographs under the banner of a company which owns the work of its employees. Or in some rare cases that the photographer signs a contract with a client such as an agency who requests ownership of copyright. (Many photographers will refuse to work for such agencies.)
Even if you have no formal written contract with your photographer, UK Intellectual Property law (specifically the Design and Patents Act 1988) states that when a photographer clicks the button, at the point the work is created, the photographer owns the copyright.
You don’t need to worry about that, though! Read on.
Instead, most photographers will provide you with a licence that allows specific things to be done with the photographs; for example they may allow you to keep low resolution copies on a DVD and print them for personal use.
Some photographers still prefer not to release digital versions of images – or to release versions with large watermarks that prevent printing by obscuring a large portion of the image – for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the photographer has a more old fashioned revenue model whereby the majority of profit comes from selling prints, alternatively the photographer may have exacting standards for photographic printing that most consumer print services do not allow for.
It is arguable that this practice is changing, and photographers are charging more and more for the photography time rather than prints of the images that are received at the end. In this sense, wedding photography has become more similar to corporate and commercial photography.
However it is also arguable that a photographer operating nearer the higher end of the market wants to maintain full artistic control and will therefore not allow for a situation where couples can make their own prints.
“So we’re not Victoria and David Beckham”
Either way, a professional photographer will always retain the copyright – except in extremely rare circumstances.
Of course, it is technically possible for a photographer to hand over the copyright, however this would allow you to sell the photographs for a large sum of money to an agency. Or worse still, put those photographs on Facebook; did you realise that a third party could legally sell those photos onto an agency without your knowledge?
You may be thinking “we aren’t exactly Angelina and Brad“, but if you think photos of your wedding might not be worth that much, think again. What if the photographer even so much as happens to snap an object quickly from the perfect angle with the perfect light, and there is a company out there who require that exact image for marketing purposes? A professional photographer is defined as someone who makes his/her money from taking photographs, and it therefore denies them the ability to continue making a living when other people get revenue from their works. That’s why pros don’t do it.
“But wait, these are photos of me!”
Secondly it helps to understand the word copyright and how this differs from intellectual property, licence, and goods.
Copyright doesn’t just mean the right to copy a photograph. The word copyright covers a whole host of things by inference: the right to email, publish online, upload to Facebook, sell, print the photograph out, even the right to crop a photograph!
The goods are the photographs themselves, in whatever form they happen to be; this could be on disc, as a download on the photographer’s website, in print, in a book.
Intellectual property (IP) is a term that describes the original idea of the work, and because it is unusual for a wedding photography idea to be capitalised on, this is something that is rarely discussed; IP is rarely transferred from one person to another in wedding photography. However it is still worth talking about, because it ties-in with copyright: the IP of a photograph is owned by the photographer. This means that even if a photograph doesn’t have a copyright notice on it, even if it has already been posted online, even if the IP is not protected in any other way (e.g. trademark), the IP by default belongs to the photographer. Even if the photograph is of someone famous, even it was taken by a freelance photographer and sold on to a newspaper, the IP belongs to the person who produced that image, the photographer. As long as there is no explicit transfer of copyright, the copyright will also remain with the photographer, even if a copyright notice is not written anywhere.
“So what does this mean?”
- If your wedding is shot by a professional photographer, intellectual property and copyright almost always remain with the photographer.
- When choosing a wedding photographer, ask what licence to the images they offer. Please respect those photographers who offer no licence at all, as this will be built into their revenue model and they will most likely charge a lot less for your wedding photography.
- Many photographers will assign a licence to the wedding couple that allows them to keep photo files on DVD and print for personal use. A licence needn’t be worded in legalese. A licence can be implicit upon an action: this means that if the photographer gives you a DVD with full size images, then you arguably have the licence to keep this DVD.
- A licence is usually specific. Assume that you are not allowed to do anything other than what is written or communicated to you in this licence. Therefore if you are given a licence to store images on DVD, disc, and print for personal use, this means you may not edit, crop, or change those photographs in any way. This would count as transforming or adapting the work. Furthermore you may not email photos or upload photos to Facebook, as this would count as publishing or distribution.
- Some photographers may provide a mechanism to allow for common modern usage. For example, they may provide a heavily watermarked version of the photographs for sharing with guests by email, and uploading to Facebook. Ask your photographer.
Mat Smith is a commercial, portrait, and wedding photographer based in London, UK. The above does not constitute legal advice. Always consult a member of the legal profession. Visit Mat’s portfolio here: www.matsmithphotography.com