Who Owns The Rights To My Photos?

February 06, 2020  •  1 Comment

So you've hired a photographer to take pictures of your family/wedding/pet baby elephant. If you're as brilliant and amazing as I'm certain you are, you've also hired ME to take your pictures! You pay your photographer (me), you have your session and you get back tons of gorgeous photos (from me) that you'll treasure forever and want to share with the world. Buuuuut it might surprise you to know that you don't actually own those pictures.












It's true! In the United States copyright law states that the person who clicks the shutter owns the photo! Not the person who owns the camera and not the person who is in the photo.... just the photographer. Here is a beautiful rhyme I just made up to help you remember this law:

Whoever clicky, owns the picky.


Oh my god, I'm a friggen poet.

(Here is me. Owner of every picture I take. But I don't own this one! It belongs to this babe.)


BUT WAIT... I paid for them, shouldn't they be mine?

When you pay your photographer for your photos what you're actually doing is paying for the rights to use them personally. Personal use could mean any or all of the following: printing your photos, displaying them in your home, gifting copies of them to friends and family or sharing them on social media. I grant my clients all of those personal use rights very specifically in my contract! It's of a huge benefit to my business to have my work shared and I'm happy when my clients do so. But because I own the photos, my clients are not allowed to sell the images, enter them in contests, use them for advertising or give them to other companies to use in advertising without my permission. This is also detailed very specifically in my contracts.

(Is it starting to click?)

Are there exceptions to this rule? What if I WANT to own the copyright to my photos? How do I do that?

There are certainly exceptions to this rule! I have sold the copyright of photos to clients who wanted to own them exclusively. However, owning the copyright involves a different kind of contract and a much higher price tag. 












Ok, so what if I want to keep my images private?

That's ok too! This is a common request from my boudoir clients who don't want nakey pictures of them on the internet but there are allll sorts of reasons why a person may want to keep their images private. Perhaps they have a foster child and are legally not allowed to share pictures of that child. Maybe they have escaped an abusive partner and don't wish to be found. Whatever the reason, I'm not an a-hole and I respect my client's need for privacy. It takes zero effort for me to not be an a-hole. Don't be an a-hole. 


So in my contract with my wedding venue it states that my photographer is required to sign a contract with them granting them full rights to my photos so.....

Ok, HOLD UP. This is something that I have seen pop up as an issue more and more and I want to address it head-on. There have been a number of venues across the country that aren't allowing photographers to shoot on their property unless they grant them exclusive rights to the images. Now, private properties ARE allowed to determine who and who isn't allowed to take photographs at their venue. BUT, these venues are essentially committing Legal Blackmail and frankly, it sucks. As a photographer I have always allowed the venues I shoot at to share my imagery with proper photo credit. I've even let venues use my pictures in their own advertisements as long as I am credited in the ad! However, what some venues are trying to do is bypass the need for credit or payment by refusing entry to the property unless a photographer signs a contract granting exclusive rights to the images. Some venues have even gone as far as having the intended couple sign a contract that grants the venue the rights to the photos but legally the couple can't do that because why?




So, what if this is a venue that you are ABSOLUTELY in love with and you just have to get married there or you will just DIE??

Then go ahead! Get married there! Just be aware that there are many, many photographers (myself included) who will walk away from a wedding before signing away the rights to our work.

(Here I am, walking away. Taking NONE of that bullshit)


The point I'm trying to make is... talk to your photographer about what your expectations are for your photos. If you want to own the copyright, ask your photographer what that will cost! Also, make sure you READ your contracts. Not just with your photographer but with your venue and other vendors as well. Communication is crucial and will save you tons of hassle.

But most importantly, please remember what a brilliant poet I am.


Whoever clicky, owns the picky.





P.S. If you have a pet baby elephant I'm gonna need you to call me immediately.


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