Photography Copyright Laws and How They Protect Your Work

As a wedding photographer today, it’s easy to publish and sell your work online. You can share it through online portfolios or your website and social media handles. But since people can easily access your work, it’s also easy for people to save/download your photos without your permission and for reasons that you might not be okay with. This is where photography copyright laws come into action. According to the Professional Photographers of America (PPA), “A copyright is the exclusive legal right of creators or assigned copyright owners to reproduce, distribute, publicly display, or create derivative works from original work.” Copyright laws for images will therefore protect your work so that it can’t be used by anyone else without your permission. If you are unsure about your rights as a wedding photographer, in this blog, we will offer you some clarity on how you can protect your work.

Who is a Copyright Owner?

Infographic stating a copyright is the exclusive right of creators or owners to reproduce works from an original work

A person or a company who owns any one of the exclusive rights of copyright in a work, such as a photograph, poem, film, or song, is the copyright owner of that article. However, it’s worth noting that copyright ownership is separate from the ownership of the work itself. Once you create a photograph, you are the author and the owner. But once you give someone else the rights to use your work, they hold a copyright to your work. Therefore, companies, organizations, and other people besides you can also be copyright owners. Moreover, copyright law allows ownership through ‘works made for hire’. This means that if you are employed by a studio or an organization, they hold the copyright of any work you create.

Photography Copyright Laws You Should Be Aware Of

1. Your Couples Have Rights Too

While you are the creator of your photographs and own the copyright to your work, your couples and models also have privacy rights. They might not be comfortable with you displaying their photographs. To avoid any conflict, PPA recommends that you “always have your subjects sign a model release before using their images for advertising or other promotional purposes.” This will also come in handy if you plan to sell copies of the images to a third party. Simply put – you completely own your work, however, photography copyright laws don’t give you the right to do anything you want with the photographs you create.

2. Different Countries Have Different Photography Copyright Laws

Infographic stating different countries have different photography copyright laws

Even if you are a wedding photographer based in the United States, you will still legally hold the copyright to your work in countries with copyright relations with the US. However, this does not apply to all the countries in the world.

3. Unless You Transfer in Writing, Only You Own Your Work

A copyright infringement occurs when your couple or a third party exercises one or more of your exclusive rights without your permission. However, this excludes the photographs that your clients have bought from you. They are legally allowed to publicly display the copies of the images that they have purchased. Unless you transfer the rights to your work to a client in writing, only you own the rights to your photographs. Ensure your clients understand that they are purchasing copies of your images, not the rights to the image.

4. Draft Licensing Agreements to Avoid Miscommunication

To ensure that your images are being used in the right way and the right capacity, create a licensing agreement for your couple. The document should include information about exactly how they can use the images. Whether you give your clients unlimited usage of an image or you just want to grant them one specific use, you don’t have to sign away your copyright. The key is to make sure that everything is clearly communicated in a written agreement that both parties sign.

5. Add Photo Credit Requirement in Licensing Agreements

Infographic stating ask clients to credit you when posting photos you took of them

As a copyright owner of your photograph, you have a “moral right to attribution”, which gives you the right to be given credit any time your image is used in any capacity. Still, your couple is not legally required to do so. However, this means that you can ask your couples to give you photo credit when sharing your pictures. Additionally, this moral right to attribution allows you to add a photo credit requirement in the licensing agreement, so make sure you do that to keep communication official and documented. You can also tell your clients exactly how you would like to be attributed.

6. Add the Copyright Symbol to Your Photos

While you automatically own your photographs as soon as you take them, adding the copyright symbol to your images would give you leverage and proof if your copyright is ever challenged. To make sure that people know that you own the copyright of an image, include the copyright symbol, the year the photo was taken, and your or the studio’s name in the image. PPA also recommends including a written copyright notice on images that will be used online.

Further Read: Wedding Photography Liability Insurance Explained

Infographic stating technology has made it easier for your work to be used without your permission

Even though the advancement in technology has made it easier to share your work and expose your brand to more potential clients, it’s also made it easier for your work to be used without your knowledge or permission. To cover all bases, ensure that you add the copyright symbol to your photographs and also provide all your couples with licensing agreements. Keep everything documented, be aware of the photography copyright laws in your local area, and know your rights as a wedding photographer.

At ShootDotEdit, we take our responsibility towards wedding photographers very seriously. Besides giving you tips on how to scale up and protect your business, we also take care of the editing work for you. To learn more about how we can help your wedding photography business, you can check out our pricing plans.

Please note: ShootDotEdit is here to provide quality content to help wedding photographers succeed. We are not legal professionals, nor do we receive any benefits from any of the companies or advice mentioned in this article. If you want to learn more about photography copyright laws and what to do if your photos are used without your permission as a US-based photographer, Professional Photographers of America is a trusted source that can help, as can most law professionals.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published