One of the questions that I find myself addressing quite often is, “Will I get copyright of my photos?'“ This is, and isn’t, a simple question to answer, because the answer varies based upon each photographer and how they run their individual business. First, let’s define some terms:
Copyright- the exclusive right to make copies, license, and otherwise exploit a literary, musical, or artistic work, whether printed audio, video, etc. As of January 1, 1978, such works are protected for the lifetime of the creator and for a period of 70 years after his or her death.
Right to Print, or Print Rights- These are terms that photographers use when they are granting permission to an individual, company, or corporation to print the image the photographer has created on their behalf without alteration.
To give this some context, each time I press my shutter release button, I create a photo. Every time I create a photo (even the bad ones!) I create a copyrighted image because it is an artistic work. I own the rights to exploit that photo in any way I choose to do so. Now, of course I choose to delete the bad ones because no one wants to see those. But, the good ones? The ones I actually deliver to my clients? I still own them, even though those photos are of people who’ve paid me for a service.
Here’s where the confusion often comes in: clients obviously want to print their photos and to share them on social media, but if they don’t own the photos, it’s stealing to do this, and most print labs know this. So, what photographers do is they issue their clients permission to print and share the photos. It allows clients to do all the things that they want to do, without preventing the photographer from also benefiting from use of the photos.
When a photographer gives away their copyright, or ownership, of a photo, they can no longer use that photo for any reason or purpose. We can’t license that photo to another user, we can’t use it to advertise our business, we can’t enter it in contests or competitions, and we certainly can’t give it to another person or company. By giving away- or selling- a copyright on a photo, we’re permanently losing any potential income that could have been gained by use of that photo.
Additionally, in an age where we are saturated with images, it has become commonplace for people to use or share an image they do not legally own without permission, and without credit being given to the photographer. This is known as copyright infringement, and it is a crime. It doesn’t come with a jail sentence, but if it can be proven, it does come with a hefty fine. The sad part is that there are major companies and corporations that commit copyright infringement every single day, and get away with it because they are using the work of an individual who cannot afford to pursue them through our legal system. The good news? Professional Photographers of America (our pseudo union) is lobbying Congress to create harsher laws and penalties for these companies and corporations, as well as making it easier for photographers like me to pursue this white-collar crime committed against us. You can take action by urging your representatives to support these bills.
Well, I hope that this cleared up some confusion! If you have any questions, drop ‘em in the comments below!