Copyright vs. Use in Photography

Copyright Permission and Use Permission, what’s the difference?

This is an age of imagery. A quick google search can find you a photograph of just about anything. It may seem as though all images are free and up for grabs, not so! As a result, there is a lot of copyright infringement happening out there. People probably don’t think twice about it, or even realize they are doing it. As a professional business woman who creates and sells images, I wanted to share with you the difference between copyright permission and usage permission. I want my clients to know how to use their images in a way that works for everyone.

A client may question: I paid you to photograph this project why can’t I do whatever I want with the final images? Under US Copyright laws a photograph is creative intellectual property. The original creator is granted ownership of all images immediately upon creation. They own the images until the copyright is sold or surrendered. When I deliver images to clients, they are purchasing the right to USE the file for the purposes outlined in their use permissions. They do not own the images. I retain copyright ownership of the images and have the legal right to re-use the images. It is also my legal right to know where and how the images are being used.  What a client typically receives, is usage rights for their specific needs through licensing of the photos.

Most images are now in a digital format. It can be difficult to understand that photographs are still tangible individual items. I get that, so here are some analogies that may help! 

Photography Copyright law is similar to music and software

A musician or band is issued a check every time their song is played on the radio. U2 has sold over 25 million copies of “Joshua Tree” and they still get a cut every time it is sold. We don’t start getting U2 songs for free because they sold enough copies or made enough money off of it already. The value of art comes from its usage.  Anytime it is used, it creates value to the party using it.  What a photographer creates is art. U.S. intellectual copyright laws were created to ensure that artists are compensated for their work everytime it’s used.

Photography copyright, usage, and licensing laws / protections are similar to that of software. When you purchase a “license” for the software, you choose in what way you will use it. Are you a student, professional, or entire company? You pay for these licenses accordingly for their value. Software can’t be copied and re-distributed to anyone you wish. That would be illegal. The same laws apply to images purchased from a photographer.

Here are some examples of how illegal distribution hurts a photographer

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Copyright Rene Roy Photography

A client takes an image from a portrait shoot and enters it in a magazine cover contest. It wins.  Thousands of copies are distributed with a photograph the magazine didn’t credit, purchase, or have permission to use. This is copyright infringement. Income goes to the magazine from using the photograph. The photographer loses income, and the connection with thousands of readers.

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Copyright Rene Roy Photography

A photographer creates images for a cabinet company in a custom home. The cabinet company gives the images to the architect and the builder. The architect and the builder attract new clients and bring in new jobs using the photographer’s images. The photographer is never compensated for these additional uses of her work. Not only is this stolen intellectual property and copyright infringement, but the photographer loses income. She missed the chance to meet new potential clients that she could have created a mutually beneficial relationship with.

As a business owner it’s vital to know how my photographs are being used, and to be compensated accordingly. You hired me, a professional photographer, for my creativity, knowledge and vision in making a beautiful final product. My images are unique items with value. I provide a document that describes how my images can be used to every client, so they know the limits and restrictions on using the images.

I am very generous with use and make sure my clients have exactly what they will need for their projects. My wedding and portrait clients are given permission for personal use. Commercial clients are given permission to use the images for marketing of their individual company. If you have any concerns or questions don’t hesitate to ask! When in doubt on using or distributing a photograph, it’s always best to contact the creator.

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  • Great explanation of what can be a tricky subject to talk about!  Thanks Rene!ReplyCancel

  • Great explanation of what can be a tricky concept for clients.  Nice work ReneReplyCancel

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