tonia johnston photography | copyright explained

copyright explained

January 19, 2012

So, you’ve picked your photographer.  You’ve checked all of the appropriate places on the contract and added your signature at the bottom of the page. Your session goes great and now it’s time to choose your images. However, your photographer is going on and on about Copyright. Of course, you know about Copyright. You’ve heard of it before, but he or she is saying some stuff that you just can’t wrap your head around.

Normally my blog does not serve an educational purpose, but for the last couple of months this Copyright issue has really been nagging at me. I think I tend to over-explain Copyrights to my clients. It is in my contract. (My husband has reminded me that most people don’t actually read a contract. They sign it to get what they want. Kinda like checking the “I AGREE” box). If I don’t discuss it at the end of your session, I certainly do at my clients viewing..sometimes it’s both. You can’t understand what you don’t know, right? In all of my talks I have come to realize that although people know what Copyright is, they don’t KNOW. It’s like when someone asks you for the definition of a word and you know what it is, you just can’t verbalize it. Also, people tend to think that they have paid a photographer for the pictures and that’s not exactly true. I’m going to explain.

The Copyright Act gives protection to who they call “Authors” (your photographer) for their original works (his or her images). In the simplest terms – whoever pushed the shutter makes the “original” image and therefore owns the copyright. The exception would be if you went to a studio owned by person A and their employee took the picture. That’s a whole different story and in that case, person A would own the Copyright.

This is where it gets a little confusing. Clients feel that they have paid for the photograph and should be able to do with it as they please. I totally understand this way of thinking. However, what clients have paid for is the photographers time, talent, knowledge and SOMETIMES (depending on the package you’ve selected) a few images that have been edited on disk. A version of the “original” image.

Under Copyright Laws only the “owner” (your photographer) of the original image can do the following:

1. Make copies in any way shape or form. This includes and is not limited to, scanning, copying and printing. This is why if you get images put on disk you will also receive a print release authorizing you to go get prints made for personal use only. Because it is against the law, the stores that you can go to for printing are not allowed to print without that release. And seriously, if they did I’d run away because chances are if they don’t care enough to get that piece of paper they don’t care enough to do a job well done.

2. Prepare other works based on the original or create new work from a modified version (called derivative work). The version of the pictures you get is just that – it is a work that was based on an original. This is why photographers will let you know that you cannot alter the image once you have it – derivative work. Cropping? No. Changing to a black and white? No. Adding wording? If you were happy with your images when they were presented to you, why would you want them changed? And really, if you are working with a good photographer who is understanding and flexible they will re-crop or change to black and white if you ask. I’ve done it before at the viewings. It’s not a big deal. I’d rather do it for you than to see my images changed’s against the law.

3. Distribute copies fo public display or for sale, retail, lease or lending. This means that if your picture and money are involved, it can’t be done.

You may still be wondering how it is that you didn’t pay for the copyright since you paid the photographer for pictures. Again, unless it was spelled out specifically in your contract you paid for services and possibly edited versions of the original images if they were included in the package price. Does that mean you cannot get the original images? It’s possible. At a price and usually a very high price.

Chances are you’re not going to want or need the original image. A lot of photographers shoot RAW and unless a person is really into photography they won’t know what to do with a RAW image and their imaging program may not even be able to open the file. Then you’ve just paid a lot of money for an image that is essentially worthless.

Does this mean that an image your photographer is showing you in color, you can’t get in black and white? Or it can’t be cropped differently? Of course it can! Ask your photographer if they can change it for you. Some may charge you a small fee, I do not. If you want you picture a different way and it’s going to make you happy, I’ll change it for you at your viewing. All you have to do is ask!

Does this mean that you can’t scan your picture into the computer to send it to Grandma? Umm..yes, actually it does. That’s not allowed and it really can’t be gotten around..unless you are a rule and law-breaker. The best thing to do in that case is to either purchase your prints from your photographer or purchase your digital file if it’s not included in your package. That way you can print as many as you want (with the written release, of course).

If you plan on using your images for anything other than personal use, be sure to mention this to your photographer upfront. This way you can get the shots you are looking for and your photographer can be sure to size and sharpen your images correctly as well as give you the proper release for usage.

I hope for the client, this clears things up. Of course, if you have any questions feel free to ask!