Who owns the copyright of a photograph is a major topic in the photography world. It comes up almost every time you take on a new job, contract or commission and many people out there don’t fully understand the concept of copyright.
A lot of the time, when I’m asked by a client, “Will you give me the copyright to my images”, I don’t get angry and start yelling about how they clearly don’t understand the value of my work. Instead, I take a deep breath and prepare myself for a well-rehearsed monologue.
Unfortunately, no, I will not give you the copyright for the images as this would mean I am practically signing my life away. I would no longer be entitled to all the lovely opportunities your portrait or wedding photographs may offer me. It would also mean that the client (or agency) would be free to do whatever they like with those images, without batting an eyelid.
Obviously, this isn’t the best idea as a photographer, however, after explaining that although they will not own the copyright but can sign a usage agreement that includes being able to print and share their photographs, many clients will agree, they don’t need the copyright. Or if they still want it, they are prepared to pay a hefty sum.
In simple terms, it doesn’t matter who set up the shot, who’s camera was used or even who edited the final photograph – the copyright belongs to the person who pressed the shutter. Copyright can get very messy when misunderstood, and maybe businesses and organisations ‘forget’ that crediting a photographer isn’t enough when copyright has been breached. Exposure can only get you so far, so when an image is used without an agreement, you can expect an invoice.
With the rise of image sharing platforms including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram it’s very easy to get caught up in copyright arguments. Sharing and tweeting your favourite photographs from Google to accompany your post seems like a harmless venture, but be warned, someone out there took that photograph and wants credit for it and you can only assume, including their logo won’t be enough.
Luckily there are many websites out there offering royalty free images for personal and commercial use. www.pexels.com is just one of many offering fantastic photographs for everyday use.
There are, however, many Instagram accounts which ‘feature’ other photographers work. A lot of these will state in their bio a hashtag to use to get a feature. If you, therefore, use this hashtag, they will assume you are happy for your image to be shared for free in exchange for further exposure. This is a very easy way to get your photographs to a wider audience.
The thing that brought this subject to light for me today, was the news story:
After a 6 year long legal battle, David Slater, eventually won copyright to the image taken by a monkey in the Indonesian Jungle. Since the beginning I backed the photographer, understanding the amount of work that would have gone into getting this close to these wild animals. Although I truly believe animals should be treated with kindness and respect, I was never in favour of the idea that they could own the copyright to a photograph. If a human didn’t press the shutter (similarly when using motion sensor technology) the copyright should belong to the person who had the most influence on the shot.
I’m glad Mr Slater decided to donate 25% of further profits to charity and believe this was definitely a win for the fight for copyright.
Until next time…
P.S. The cover image was taken from Pexels.com