Do you own your professional family portrait photographs?
Odds are, you don’t, and you may not have any real legal right to use them at all!
Recently, we’ve had a few conversations with clients about their professional photographs and what they want to do with “their” images. These clients were under the impression that because they had hired another photographer for their wedding and engagement photography (p.s. our sister company, Knox Wedding Creative, is the BEST wedding photography company in East Tennessee!), and possibly because they were in the images, that the images were “theirs”—as in the couple owned the images and all rights to them.
This is becoming a common misconception among the pro photography industry, and it seems to be primarily coming from the influx of new, inexperienced, and less-educated photographers offering their services to couples for their family and wedding pictures (they aren’t the only ones that are pushing this myth, however).
The Truth About Photographic Copyrights
According to the Federal Copyright Laws of the United States of America, the individual who takes the picture owns all rights to that image. You may or may not have already been aware of this—however, hiring a photographer (or “commissioning” them) to create your family photographs doesn’t imply or signal a transfer of ownership.
Professional Photographers of America has shared more information about this on their website:
“Copyright” describes the rights given to creators for their literary and artistic works.
But we often don’t consider copyright when we look at our family photos, or go to get them copied. Even though it is so easy to copy an image—with scanners, photo-quality printers, and copy stations—it is still illegal.
What does this mean for you?
It means that if you are in possession of digital images from your family session and share them on Facebook, send them in an email, post them on Instagram, or have any print or product created from them—regardless of the size or where it was made—you are breaking the law.
So, what should you do about it?
If your photographer delivered digital images to you, they most likely meant to grant you some form of a release from the Federal Copyright for those images—which we call a license. This license outlines what rights you are and are not granted (what you are allowed to do with the images and for what period of time you can do it).
To be in the clear, you should obtain written documentation of your copyright release license for the images. Please note: Don’t be shocked if your photographer refuses to sell or offer you the copyright ownership for images. Most established, trusted photographers will not offer clients the ownership rights to any images they take. Transfer of copyright ownership for photographs in the wedding and portrait industry is incredibly rare for true professional photographers.
Why does the copyright matter?
Here is some more information from PPA about copyrights:
- Just because you buy a print does not mean you have purchased the copyright.
- Under the Federal Copyright Act of 1976, photographs are protected by copyright from the moment of creation.
- Photographers have the exclusive right to reproduce their photographs (right to control the making of copies).
- Unless you have permission from the photographer, you can’t copy, distribute (no scanning and sending them to others), publicly display (no putting them online), or create derivative works from photographs.
And here is some info from PPA about how copyrights affect and promote local small business:
- Professional photographers are dependent on their ability to control the reproduction of the photographs they create. It affects their income and the livelihood of their families.
- Even small levels of infringement—copying a photo without permission—can have a devastating impact on a photographer’s ability to make a living.
- Copyright infringements—reproducing photos without permission—can result in civil and criminal penalties.
Click here to see more information from PPA about copyrights.
At Knoxville Portrait Co.,
We spend time educating our clients on what their rights are, and we offer written documentation of copyright release licenses with our digital image files. All of our clients know they are safe because they have a legal document outlining what they can and can’t do with their images simply because we communicate that with them. In addition, we provide clients who want digital image files in their packages with three versions of every image and two guides on caring for digital and print images—so your photographic memories last as long or longer than your recollection of the event itself.
We are also members of the Professional Photographers of America and our owner serves on the Board of Directors for the Professional Photographers of East Tennessee, the local affiliate of PPA and the only professional photography trade organization in the area. If you have any questions about your rights as a consumer regarding photography—regardless of whether you are a Knoxville Portrait Co. client or not—we encourage you to contact us and we can help you determine what rights you may have and what documentation you may need (P.S.: this is not an offer for legal consultation or advice, merely a kind offer for guidance and our best analysis of your current situation).