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Understanding Photography Copyright

Do you have a hard time understanding photography copyright? In today’s digital age we are finding more and more people confused by copyright. Sure, you likely understand the basics when it comes to music, books/articles, and movies. But do you understand what copyright means when it comes to your portrait or wedding photos? You may be surprised to learn that you do not own the copyrights to your images (even if you did pay for the session/wedding).

“What?! I don’t own my images?! So who does?”. In short, the photographer that took the images does.

This topic has been quite hot lately and there are many blog posts out there that try to address it (kind of). In fact, if you look, you’ll find some of the major (and minor) wedding planning/vendor blogs talk about it. They will tell you that the photographer owns your images and that you need to make sure you ask for copyright. Often though, this really isn’t necessary and we’re here to explain copyright to you. If after reading this you still believe you need copyrights to your images, by all means, talk to your photographer about it.

What is copyright exactly?

Knowing what copyright is will help in understanding photography copyright. In short, copyright is the ownership of a work. In this case, photography. It gives the creator (photographer) the sole right to publish or sell that work. Basically, that means that no one other than the photographer has the right to produce, publish or sell the photographs taken by the photographer. Even the people that are in the images and/or have paid for the images don’t have this right.

Copyright also protects the work (images) itself. Meaning that only the copyright holder can alter the images. What does that really mean? Basically, once you receive your edited images, you can’t change them or further edit them. Without written and signed consent, you can’t edit (or ask someone to edit) the images in any way. Some photographers will go so far as to outline in their contract that Instagram filters are not allowed on their images.

This is why it’s so important to hire your photographer based on their work you have seen and loved. The same blogs that state you need to ask for copyright will also have you asking for RAW images so you have control over the edits. Again, that’s not necessarily what you really need or want (but that’s for another blog post). Also, side note, even if you do receive RAW images, you can’t edit them unless you have written and signed consent from the copyright holder.

The only way someone other than the photographer has copyright of images (we’re talking strictly about portrait and wedding photography) is if the copyright has been transferred in writing and signed by the photographer. Now before you start panicking and worrying about how you can convince your photographer to sign over the copyright, read on.

You probably don’t need the copyright

Most people who pay for portrait and wedding photography want those photos to keep on their digital devices, print, and share on social media. Photographers understand this and many of their contracts include giving those rights to you. You have probably heard of a “print release”. This is a document from the photographer that gives you permission to print your images. Many contracts also often outline your right to images for “personal use”. This includes sharing on social media.

What CAN you do without copyright?

• Print (if you have a print release)
• Share on social media
• Save all your images on all your digital devices to view as often as you want

What CAN’T you do without copyright?

Southern California Vineyard Wedding • Alter the images in any way
• Sell the images
• Give the images away (including to other wedding vendors that may come to you for them)
• Make money from the images
• Publish the images
• Use the images for commercial or promotional use in any way

With your rights outlined in the contract and signed over to you, you likely don’t need many more (if any) rights to your images. If you do still think you need copyright, check back next week for part 2 of this topic. We’ll explain what you need to know before you talk to your photographer about copyright ownership.

We hope this helps you in understanding photography copyright a little better.

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