As a photographer, understanding image rights and image ownership is incredibly important. How should you go about dealing with image rights? For your brand and your livelihood, you need to know who owns the photos you took. Is it you or is it the subject of the shoot? Ultimately, you own the rights, but there is much more than meets the eye. Copyright is a good place to start before you can fully understand who truly owns the rights to photographs from a photo shoot.
Working Through Copyright
As soon as you take a picture on your camera, you have ownership over the photo. But, by having copyright in place, you set-up an even stronger case for your ownership. Secondly, you give the orders on who can copy, display, and/or keep said photos.
You do not have to look further than the United States Copyright Office which protects the original works of an individual. Even if the work is edited, you still own the rights to what you created at the very beginning. Sometimes, others can use your images under fair use, or license them from you, but generally, you retain ownership of the images no matter what.
Getting Permission For Branded Photography Material
Make sure you are not taking a picture of some kind of branded material that you do not have permission to take first. For example, if you are taking a picture of an athlete, and you are taking a shot of her wearing her Nike shoes, you need to have permission from Nike before you even take this picture. Before getting worried, however, look into how you are using the images. In most use cases, it won’t matter, but for some things, you need permission for trademarked and copyrighted images or logos in your photographs.
Commercial and Editorial Services
After you do have permission, it is time to sort through what avenues you want your photos to flourish in. Let us start with commercial uses, where you might be taking photos of a model for a particular business. To sell your photos, you need a model release form signed by the company before you proceed. If you do not have the signature, you might guess that you could get fined or shut down. Most of the time, however, you can reach out to a past model and ask for a release. A written release is the golden standard, a spoken release does not hold up legally.
For editorial use, these photos can be used for a blog, article, Search Engine Optimized (SEO) content, etc. An editorial group can’t use your photo until they have been given express permission from the photographer. If someone uses an image of yours for any commercial use without permission, you may be able to get compensation.
Infringement On Your Photograph Copyright
If someone does infringe upon the copyright of one of your images, there are a variety of legal actions you can take towards the company. A registration process is needed for copyright infringement to take place. Ultimately, there is a lot more that can be talked about in this category, so check out the U.S. Copyright Office for more information here. It is important to note that when you take an image you gain copyright, but there are more steps that you want to take in this process. You should solidify your copyright by submitting thumbnails of all of your images to the US Library of Congress. This will give you much stronger protection on your images.
Some places aren’t safe for your images, and you may be legally infringed upon. For example, posting images on Instagram and Facebook has led to those images being used in commercial advertising, without the photographer ever seeing a dime from the ludicrous marketing campaigns. Research the constantly updating and confusing terms of service of any platform on which you would post your images, before doing so.
Remember that if you are ever hired for work, get the agreement in writing. Nothing is worse than talking through legality premises and not having them in writing with your signature on it. One agreement you might see is a “Trade For Print”, commonly referred to as “TFP” – this is where the model and the photographer both do not get paid. In a “TFP” shoot, the photographer retains the rights to the images, but the model is able to add the images to their own portfolio, or receives prints of the images, depending on the contract for the shoot. Even in shoots like this, it is essential that you have a contract drafted and signed!