Copyright, Schmopyrite. A Clients Guide to What You Can Do With Professional Images

Everyone has seen this little symbol. And oftentimes, few really understand what it means and why it should matter to you.

Let’s explore a few scenarios that you, as a client of a professional photographer, should be aware of and why NOT being aware of it could get you in some serious hot water.

What are Copyrights and Why Should I Care?

So you paid someone to take your photograph professionally. You own that photo and all rights to it, right?

Actually, that’s not even remotely true. What you own is the “rights” to how your photographer can use an image of you, but you don’t own any other rights beyond that. The photographer you hired owns all other rights to the image- how you can display it, how you can use it online, and how you can print it or reproduce it (if at all).

Copyrights are actually property rights and the control of how that photograph may be reproduced. Because you hired a photographer to do your family portrait or photograph your wedding, doesn’t mean you can make as many prints from your disc as you want. If fact, without some form of Release that entitles you to do so, you can be taken to court for payment of those rights to do so. You may not even have permission to post them online either without permission to do so since you are “reproducing” the image online. Once you “upload” the image(s), you still have them on a disk or drive, so you “reproduced” that image.

I just scanned my 8×10 so I can make a BIG Canvas! I can send the kid’s digital image to Grandma too! That’s going to be so cool!

You probably shouldn’t do that. Once again, you are violating the photographers copyright and the property rights he or she has as to how that image may be reproduced. Even the act of “scanning” is a violation since you reproduced the image from a print. If you never do anything but store it on your computer, you don’t have any rights that entitle you to do that.

Additionally, when you send that scanned image to a print lab, you are representing to them, in almost every case, that this is YOUR image that YOU own the rights to reproduce it with them. Since you don’t, the photographer has every legal means available to enforce their rights to reproduction. That can get costly- for you and possibly the lab that did the print.

They put this BIG watermark on my “sneak peek” on Facebook. I cropped it so my friends wouldn’t have to see it.

Whatever your photographer adds to an image- like a watermark- is considered a part of that image. Altering that by cropping is a violation of the copyright laws (the DMCA). Again, since you don’t own the copyright, any changes to that image means you are representing that you “own” that image and all rights to do whatever you want. Way too many people find out that hard way that this is a BIG no-no.

What about adding an Instagram or other “filter” to it to make it look “cool”?

Another big no-no. The image you have is considered an “artistic creation” and adding anything that changes that interpretation of what the photographer produced as his or her final image is a violation of their copyright. Most photographers add an “electronic” copyright to their images so any alteration, filters, cropping, etc., is a violation of that copyright. You can’t even change it to a B&W image if you think you might like that better.

My Photographer used an image of me in a Contest or advertisement. Can he do that?

Perhaps.

Remember that I said you own the rights to usage of your own image, but not the actual photograph? Most photographers today ask for a “model release” in which you grant them permission to use your image as they see fit. It might be in a contract you sign or a separate document. It may be for limited usage or could be for whatever the photographer wants to do with it.

Now, there are certain things that are “implied” usage and doesn’t require a model release. For example, a photographer might post an image of you on their website as a “featured” image. They can do that. BUT, they might not be able to use it for a flyer or some other form of advertising. Unless you signed a model release, which you probably did without realizing it, they can still post to their website as representative of their work and artistic ability. Since they control the reproducti0n of that image, use on their own property is considered proper usage and since they do own their websites, domains, etc. and can use it there in most every case without permission.

But I PAID them to take my photograph! What do I get for THAT?

Well, yes you did and what you paid for wasn’t for the images in most cases, nor any usage rights or copyrights to that image. What you paid for was the time, talent, equipment usage, and creative vision of the artist. If your contract doesn’t specifically state that you get anything other than that, you don’t own anything copyright wise.

Take for example that you pay Office Depot for a Windows product. Do you own that software? The answer is a flat out no!

What you paid for was a LICENSE to use that software. You don’t own the code, the rights to alter it in any manner to suit your own needs, nor any right to reproduce it either. You have what is called a EULA- End Users Licensing Agreement- that you “check box” off that you understand this when you install it on your computer.

Basically, hiring a photographer means that he or she owns all rights to that image and can license them to you as they see fit.  Because you paid them to take your photograph, doesn’t grant you any rights. What you paid for was for them to use their skills to produce images that you can purchase and/or also obtain rights to usage as your photographer decides is best for his or her business.

My Photographer want $1500 for images of me I can print! THAT’S highway robbery!

Well, I am sure you think of it that way, but here are a few considerations. According to the PPA, Professional Photographers of America, 65% of PPA members make their sole living from photography. We have to eat too, pay house payments, insurance, taxes, and do all the things from our incomes as you do from yours. What your employer pays you is calculated in part in the prices they charge for products or services they provide. Professional Photographer are no different. We charge you for the rights to produce your own unlimited number of prints based on the income we would lose if we printed them for you.

Imagine for a moment that Microsoft “gave away” the rights to reproduce their software- or sold them really cheap. Their source of income- from their rights to be the sole producer of that software- would be next to nothing, thousands of people would not be working, and someone else would be gaining from their hard work, not them. I could then duplicate it, sell it for whatever I wanted or even give it away.

This is the very reason you often see lawsuits involving software manufacturers where some copy-written code was “stolen” and someone ends up paying dearly. Doing the same thing with a photograph could mean you are on the losing end of a similar lawsuit.

Can I share or use an image my photographer posted on Facebook?

Yes, you can. As long as you don’t alter the image in any manner- including cropping out the watermark, adding a filer, or doing anything that changes the final image that your photographer originally created.

When your photographer uploads an image of you to Facebook, they “surrender” only a small portion of their right to reproduce that image by others. What Facebook DOESN’T allow you to do with that image is alter it in any manner. Which means, you can’t download it, do a few Photoshop edits, and then re-upload it as your own- even if you are thoughtful enough to give the photographer credit. He or she still owns all rights to the unaltered image and altering it in any manner is a violation their copyright by you. This is usually the point where your photographer is going to get really upset and ask you to remove the image, so be prepared if that happens.

There is a NEW SERVICE where I can create photobooks from my Facebook Photos! Isn’t that a great idea!

Well, if you are using images you paid a photographer to create, and you don’t own any reproduction rights to do that, then no, you can’t use those images. It’s a great idea if these are images you made yourself, but not so great if you paid a photographer to take them!

The only images your are legally entitled to use are either ones you took yourself or ones you have the reproduction rights, in writing, from your photographer. Because your photographer tagged you or shared their images on your Facebook page, does NOT grant you any other rights OTHER than sharing or use on your Facebook page. They still own the reproduction rights.

Most any of these services that do that are going to ask you “do you own the rights to reproduce these images?”. If you answer “yes”, then you are subject to the photographer coming back to you and asking for payment. If you love their images so much you want to put them in a book, ask your photographer to do that for you! It can cost you far less in the long run should you “steal” their images and try to do it yourself.

We went to Walmart with our disc from our Wedding. They won’t print them and my photographer wants MORE MONEY for images that I can print! THAT’S OUTRAGEOUS!

Walmart is doing their job. They probably asked you for a “Print Release” and since your disc didn’t have one or you couldn’t produce one in writing, they are not supposed to print your images unless YOU created them. Chances are, your photographer embedded an electronic © symbol or text in the images and as soon as Walmart or other lab sees it, they want your release.

Many labs today are finding themselves on the losing end of lawsuits by photographers for printing images they own the copyrights too simply for not asking for print releases. Even online labs are asking for an electronic release- something you have in an electronic form like a PDF file- where you have the rights to print that image. If you don’t, then you can obtain that from your photographer. Yes, they have every right to ask for payment for one as they do own the rights to reproduce that image(s) you want to print. In most cases, it would be more to purchase the rights than to purchase the prints directly from them! They do have to eat you know.

Even though this is not totally “copyright” related, your photographer also has a certain right to produce images that represent their work as they envision it. Often times “consumer labs” fall way short of doing that. This is often one reason most photographers- your real Professionals that is- want to control their printed products. They want satisfied clients- you- and use pro labs for prints. The care they put into those images and the best possible printed representation of those images will benefit not only you, but also best serves the reputation of your photographer. Often times those “crappy prints” from Wackyworld’s lab doesn’t do that.

I did a “screen shot” of my images on the photographers website and posted them to Facebook. NOW they are all pissy and want them removed. I refuse to do that! They are MY PICTURES!

They are well within their rights to do so. Because they are pictures OF you doesn’t mean “YOU OWN THEM”.

Remember that copyright means they primarily own the reproduction rights to the images. Even if they are of you or a family member, you “stole” their image(s) and reproduced it without permission to do so. Add to it, by doing so, you represented it as “your own”. Even though it might be OF you, you don’t own any right to use it as you see fit or to scan it, copy it, screen shot it, or edit it without your photographers permission.When you “steal” our images and they don’t represent our best work- and that’s what happens with screenshots- we get upset. Let us bend over backwards to serve you, just please don’t “steal” from us. Just ask and we are most likely to accommodate you in every way possible.

My last Photographer gave us a disc of images we could print all we wanted. Why don’t YOU do that too?

There is one thing I totally believe- “you don’t make yourself look good by making others look bad”. So I want to stick to that edict and pray you will bear with me. So let’s call this part an bit of an “educational lesson” for consumers that I hope you will take to heart.

First, there is NO “prerequisite” to become a Professional Photographer. Basically, all it takes is for someone with a camera to call themselves one. Even though pretty much every full time professional has over $20,000 in equipment and over 10,000 hours of education to perfect our craft, it’s not a requirement. There are no tests involved, or any licensing boards to see if we are competent. Just put it out there- “I’m a Professional Photographer”.

Now here is where it usually starts- someone loves photography and gets themselves a decent camera. Someone tells them they take good pictures. Boom! They are now a “professional photographer” who wants to make a little extra money on the weekends taking pictures and getting paid money from people to do so! Exciting way to do that and doing something you love to do too. Perhaps its a few weddings “where the big money is”. Whatever it might be.

Statistically, this is what we know. 90% of these people will not be around inside of a year or two. They find out there is far more work involved to create the images people love and can generate enough income that makes it worthwhile The give their clients a disc of images for $75 and includes the “shooting time” too. Then they find out that hour of shooting time turns into 10 hours of editing time and all of a sudden they are grossing $6 an hour and after they pay for their website, their software, their computer and upgrade their equipment, they are in the hole $200 for everyone they photograph. So they raise their prices. Double. Still in the hole.

They are at the point where one of two things happens- they get out, saying, “there is no money in photography anymore” or they figure it out that copyright protections and printing of images is the only way they can pay their bills, eat, and keep their business afloat- even part time. The latter is the 5% that survive beyond 2 years.

Usually here is what you often get from the cheaper “guy down the street” who gives you a disc of images-

  1. Someone starting out who has a nice camera but hasn’t put in the hours needed to produce truly professional images you are paying for.
  2. Is usually part time and doesn’t make their living from their photography. They work at a bank or dry cleaners and only do this on the weekends. It’s not something they have dedicated themselves to just yet. They want to “try it” to see how it works out.
  3. Doesn’t really care what you do with your images and printing them for you to have, hold, and share with others isn’t important enough to do for you. Basically, they don’t care if your Wackywold prints suck. They just got paid to do your session and because your lab sucks, isn’t “my fault”. They often put that in writing even though they don’t have any access to a pro lab to produce prints that don’t.
  4. They don’t know enough to realize that a “full resolution” image isn’t properly prepared for printing. All they know is that they heard that all you have to do is upload it and you get remarkable prints- even though that ‘s not true at all. (there is a lot of technical details here that is part of that 10,000 educational hours I mentioned)
  5. The use “online ordering” with little if any “quality control” over the prints. All they know is that some lab, someplace, uses their “full resolution images”, not properly prepared, and sends you prints if you want to buy them. They hope you will order from them since “you can get better quality” and they make a couple more bucks. Maybe.

I could go on, but you get the idea, or hopefully you do. This is part and parcel why the person who was “into photography” a few years ago is usually out of the profession now and has sold everything they owned. I see their “camera for sale” ads in Craigslist all the time since they rarely realized that having a Professional Photography business isn’t going to survive by being what I call a “commodity photographer” and doing it in volume- not as a true, professional photographer who values giving the greatest experience possible to every client that come through the door. Over the years I have found that a lot of people who ask me “for a disc only” only are coming to me because that last “photographer” they used isn’t around anymore.

In closing, as a PPA Professional photographer, there are certain standards I must maintain to be someone you would want to come to and can come to over and over. My commitment is to you, the client and to be fair and honest in my dealings with you. It is to make the experience you have, one you will talk about over and over again. It is to provide you with the quality you are paying me to produce and it’s to provide for you, photographic prints you will display in your home and cherish for the rest of your life.

What I produce for you isn’t “ink and paper”. In a couple of years, those photographs will be priceless. If you feel that “ink and paper” is all you are wanting or that is all I provide, then there is always that “guy up the street that gives you a disc of images”. I’ve seen way more of those lost in a desk drawer, someplace- or become damaged and their “priceless-ness” become more apparent when they weren’t available anymore.

Or you could spend the $20,000 or so and the 10,000 hours or so needed to produce what I work hard to produce. But if you aren’t going to go that route and decide to hire me, please honor the copyrights I have on my images. We both will find our experience together as one we both will love!

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3 thoughts on “Copyright, Schmopyrite. A Clients Guide to What You Can Do With Professional Images

  1. I was going to write a similar article for my blog site. When I saw your post I thought why re-invent the wheel; I posted a link to your blog on my blog site. The article is well written and easy for clients to understand.

  2. Thank you for your very concise and well written articles. I just read your postings regarding copy rights and the ” most photographed generation ” not having anything to show for it in the future . I wish all clients would understand and appreciate all that goes into the creation of the family heirlooms we are making. I attended a funeral over the weekend and was touched by the family gathered around the old photo album. We all took a great deal of joy looking back on these treasures together. Even as a professional photographer myself I have gotten very lax in the printing of my own family photographs. Of course I insist on recording all important family events with a real camera not the phone, but I have gotten very relaxed about printing and saving them in books . Thanks for the kick in the pants to go back and review and get these moment on paper!

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