We often get asked about copyright and image usage from our customers so I thought I’d try and explain it – this is not a definitive legal guide and should not be treated as such, but does relate to the laws of England and Wales.
‘Copyright’ refers to ownership – so whoever operates the camera and presses the shutter – the image they have created becomes their property. No-one else has the right to claim ownership or the right to use or reproduce the image without the creators consent. One of the most popular myths is that whoever has commissioned the photographer (or appeared in the shots) has a right to claim ownership of the pictures. This is not the case.
A client, who has instructed the photographer doesn’t own the photographs but instead usually pays for the photographer’s time and then buys finished products.
Many wedding photographers choose to sell their clients the right to print high resolution photographs from a disc for that client’s personal use – this enables the client to print as many images as they like for themselves and to show friends and family via emails or Facebook. It is illegal for anyone to use, scan, distribute print alter or reproduce any image without written consent of the photographer.
Items protected by copyright include maps, music, painting, movies, photographs etc.
Reproduction or copying an image includes downloading a picture from the internet, as well as being scanned and photocopied. Under copyright law, nobody but the copyright holder (the photographer) can do any of these things, unless they have given specific permission to do so.
Some of the more popular questions (and misconceptions) are shown below:
If I’ve paid for the photographer’s time, can I use the pictures how I want, after all there’re pictures of me?
No, you can’t use the images, or copy them in any form. In the same way as the purchase of a book or CD doesn’t give you the right to copy or claim ownership. It remains with the copyright owner, who has invested considerable skill, talent, time and overheads in producing their work. Unless you have a specific document detailing what you can do with the pictures, it is illegal to copy or change any piece of work. Once you’ve paid for your photographer’s time, clients then purchase products such as framed prints, canvas and albums.
Once I’ve bought a disc of pictures can’t I just copy it and give it to my friends and family?
No, that would be illegal under the Copyright Patents a Designs Act 1988. Your dis of image will usually be accompanied by a licence document, detain what you can
I took a disc of images/a print to be scanned to my local print shop and they won’t print them. Why?
The shop needs to be certain that you have the right to makes copies of the pictures. So you have to have taken the photos yourself, or show a document provided by the photographer allowing you to make copies.
We bought a disc of images from our photographer and we’ve just got our prints back – we’re annoyed because they don’t look as good as the prints we ordered from the photographer.
Print quality varies considerably and photographers can’t take responsibility for the quality of the prints from a home printer of that of any other print shop or lab. We can only guarantee the results from our own labs, because we carefully profile the images to match those labs requirements. Photographers process their images on properly calibrated computer monitors and use special professional only laboratories so that the pictures come back looking exactly as they should. It is very unlikely that any client’s home monitor or printer is set up this way
I bought some prints from my photographer, they’re my property so I’m going to scan them and make presents for my family, and I’ll make a big print for my wall because it’s cheaper than buying anything from the photographer.
This is illegal under the Copyrights Patents act 1988. Although the piece of paper, or the canvas, or album bearing the print is yours, the image remains the property of the photographer. Photographers work extremely hard for a great many years to build the skills with which they can bring quality imagery to their clients, and the cost of running a photography business is far higher than most people realise. Therefor any attempt by an individual to circumvent sale will deprive that photogram]her of their livelihood – and every professional photographer will take action against unauthorized reproduction of their images. Not only that, but the quality of printing or scanning a picture yourself will be very poor compared to the original, and a viewer may subsequently associate the poor quality reproduction with that photographers skill level or products.
I love the pictures our photographer put on their website/Facebook, can I download them, email them to relatives and put them on my website and Facebook page?
No, copying an image in any way without consent is illegal. Speak to the photographer, many are happy to provide clients with low resolution watermarked images optimised for social networking sites. Otherwise, it is perfectly fine to direct people to the pictures by putting a link to the photographer’s page.
I recently had a portrait session and the photographer won’t sell me any digital images.
Many photographers choose not to sell digital files. This is often due to concerns that the files may be used inappropriately beyond the terms of the re-print licence, but mostly because the photographer can’t then control the quality of the prints if printed at home or at a supermarket. Public printing services are very different to professional laboratories, so the prints made by the customer therefore aren’t representative of the photographer’s product – particularly if they’ve also been mounted into mass produced frames. Some photographers will sell digital files only after finished products have been bought, that way the customer also has a quality product which will properly showcase the pictures.
My photographer won’t sell me loose prints following my session – why?
All photographers are different, and many have very different business practices. Some photographers sell loose prints, and these are usually photographers who are able to cover a high number of client sittings in a day and can attach fewer overheads to each job, or they’re using the loose prints as part of a promotion. However most photographers will take far fewer clients, they spend time photographing their clients and they also spend considerable effort editing and retouching all the shots. For this reason the sale of low priced items such as loose prints becomes unprofitable. This is because most photographers, despite receiving a booking fee from the client, will work at a loss in order to deliver the quality and variety of work that the client wants, then those losses with be met when the client purchases a collection of goods. If the client only wanted to buy a few loose prints, the photographer’s losses for that project would be very high. For this reason most photographers will only sell finished products, although some may make loose prints available following a minimum spend. An exception would be when a photographer has covered an event (like a wedding, birthday party etc.) in which case it would be unusual not to sell the attendees loose prints. Lastly, many photographers are concerned that clients may breach Copyright by scanning and copying loose prints, further lowering the photographer’s income.
I’m in the pictures so I can tell the photographer what he can do with them?
No, you can’t, because the pictures don’t belong to you. Nor can that photographer tell you what you can do with the pictures that you take!
Is it illegal for anyone, professional or not, to photograph children?
This is a common misconception that it is illegal to photograph minors without parental consent. It is not illegal and consent is not required. However it is certainly true the nowadays anyone taking pictures of children is likely to become an object of suspicion.
I went to a friend’s wedding recently and pictures of myself and family have appeared on the photographer’s website and Facebook page. I’m not happy that these pictures can be viewed.
When guests attend a wedding or special event, its true to say that the presence of a professional photographer and guests with their cameras is expected. These days guests will realise that photographs are likely to appear on many personal blogs and websites, including Facebook. The commissioner of the work must consent before the photographer can publish the images. This is covered by a standard clause within the contract that photographers will show their clients to sign.
So, can a photographer do anything they want with the pictures they’ve taken?
No, of course not, identifiable individuals in photographs have certain rights in terms of how pictures containing their likeness can be used, although the photographer holds Copyright to every image, they can’t publish any picture which is defamatory or which breaches privacy laws. However, as above, images taken in a public place or at a public event, can be published, displayed on the web and sold without requiring the consent of the subjects. This is how event, sports, news and street photographers work. But the shots can’t be used in adverts without getting permission from identifiable individuals in the pictures.
I have just bought a DVD of images of my wedding, and the florist and hairstylist have asked me for some pictures.
Unless you’re the photographer (copyright holder) you can’t pass the prints to anybody for use in connection with a business or service, nor can you distribute copies of the disc or images on it. This is because the images are licensed to you, the client, for personal use only. You’ll need to ask the vendor to contact the photographer who’ll be happy to help.
I had a family portrait session recently and the photographer has posted some of our pictures on his blog – as they are pictures of us nobody but us should see them.
The images are the property of the creator. However if a person has commissioned the photography for private or domestic use, then they do have certain rights and they may request prior to booking the session that the images are not published or displayed to the public. It is normal for portrait and wedding photographers to have clauses built into their contracts stating that they, the copyright holder, reserve the right to use their photographs within their portfolios, magazines and for competitions. This is because photographers cannot get work unless they have recent or relevant images to show prospective customers. It the clients circumstances are particularly sensitive, the photographer must be informed prior to the session o that the clause and be amended form the agreement.
I’ve bought a DVD of images from my portrait/wedding and my family and friends would love to have copies of the disc.
Your licence is specific only to those parities named on it. Unless your license specifies otherwise, you cannot allow anyone else to make their own prints. This means no copying and distribution of your disc.
Why are web-sized images watermarked?
Photographers often license digital images to their clients, and sometimes a set of full resolution pictures will be accompanied by a folder of files which have been specially prepared for the web. These are small images optimized for web viewing. Because we don’t want other people claiming our work, photographers will place their name on these images. It’s our policy that only watermarked pictures can be transmitted on the web by our clients.
I have Photoshop on my computer and would love to apply some funky effects to the images from my recent photo-shoot.
It is illegal to alter the copyright holders work. This means you can’t make any changes to the images because they are the photographer’s property.
As you can see, Copyright is a HUGE issue. I hope this has helped you to understand a little more about it.
If you have any questions at all – please ask!