Copyright law is a little bit convoluted. I admit it! As a photographer I care a lot about it, but even I find it difficult to decipher. In fact I had a heck of a time reading the Canadian Copyright Act when researching this article. So for you, someone who might not have a reason to think about it ever, I imagine it’s absolutely baffling.
It’s a question I often receive from clients as we discuss my process and our contract. When we get to the copyright clause there are understandably questions about who owns what, and what my clients can do with their photos. After all, you are contracting me to create photographs for you. So when you read that I own the rights to all of the photographs I produce you might rightly be surprised. Being that this is an important and significant investment, you should understand why your photographer owns the copyright to your photographs, what it means for you, and what you should look for in your photography contract to be sure you’re absolutely covered and protected.
Canadian Copyright Law
According to the Canadian Copyright Act, photographers are the original copyright holders of all of the images they produce. This means that every photograph I take of you technically belongs to me. Here’s how it reads in Copyright Act:
2 In this Act
… artistic work includes paintings, drawings, maps, charts, plans, photographs, engravings, sculptures, works of artistic craftsmanship, architectural works, and compilations of artistic works;
… photograph includes photo-lithograph and any work expressed by any process analogous to photography;
And here’s the important part:
13 (1) Subject to this Act, the author of a work shall be the first owner of the copyright therein.
For the purposes of my portrait and wedding contracts I’ve broken this down into much more simple language.
I keep the copyright to all photographs taken by my team and myself. No reproduction is permitted without my written authorization. I will also use your photos to promote my business in print, on my website, and in wedding magazines and blogs.
If you’re feeling a bit weirded out about your photos being owned by your photographer, stick with me, because there are a couple important reasons why.
The Art of Photography
Your iPhone photos are fantastic. I’ve seen them. They’re cute as heck. But smartphone photos are not the same quality for a couple of reasons, and I’m not talking about how many megapixels they have. Yes, amateur equipment (including your smartphone) produces much sharper and brighter images than ever before. However there is a lot of style, math, physics, and even chemistry behind every amazing photograph. (That’s right, I said science!)
By working with a professional whose style you love, you’re capitalizing on their experience and talented eye. This is how you get those images which take your breath away, make you laugh, or make you cry uncontrollably. If you take that photographer out of the equation, there are no photos.
Additionally, no two photographers see a scene the same way. We have a vision for your photos and edit them in a meticulous manner to reflect your energy. That is why photographers like myself include a clause in our contract like the following to ensure that your photographs are always presented in the best way possible:
I put a lot of time and effort into producing beautiful photographs for all of my clients, and I want you to share them with your family and friends. However, you agree that you will not alter the photographs I give you in any way, including applying any digital filters (like on Instagram).
The Service of Photography
Though this might all seem like it protects the photographer and hangs our clients out to dry, that is not at all the case.
I have a question for you… When was your last vacation? Did you take your camera? Did you take hundreds of photos? Where are those photos now?
I bet they’re sitting on your computer, aren’t they? Or maybe they’re still on the memory card. Or maybe you have no idea where they are. I’ve seen so many people take hundreds of photos on a family trip, but so few have ever looked at them, and fewer still have had them printed. When they do the colour is often off and the size of the image is quite small.
Enter, your photographer. Not only do we create your photos for you, but we take the headache out of choosing the best photos, editing them, and dealing with the print lab. I could go on about the convenience of it, but there is an issue hidden beneath the surface, and that is that without copyrights to the images we produce we literally cannot perform this service for you. That’s right! If we do not own the copyright to the images we produce we are legally unable to modify your images and get them printed for you, and you’re saddled with the responsibility of handling all of that on your own. And I know you don’t have the time for that!
You might be thinking, “But Sophia, you’re bringing a second photographer to our wedding. Do they own the photographs they shoot of our big day??” And that is a great question! The answer is no. I have my associates sign contracts prior to your wedding releasing the rights to the photographs they produce to me. This means that I own the copyright to the images they produce for me of your special day.
So if I own the copyright to your photos, then… what do you get?
Simply put, you get artwork. Photographers like myself provide our clients with high quality printed artwork. Because I truly believe that you deserve the best experience and product there is, I provide the full package from planning your session to hanging your favourite pieces. When you work with someone like me, this is what you’re investing in; beautiful, amazingly finished pieces for your home. It’s as custom as custom gets! These are your images to enjoy forever.
Your Photographer’s Liability
If you’re wondering, “But I paid for my photos, and that means my photographer could up and disappear and I’ll get nothing,” take a deep breath and count to 3. Take a good look at your photography contract. There should be a liability clause in your contract outlining what happens if your photographer fails to deliver your artwork. Here’s mine:
Although I will always treat your photos with care, my liability for loss, damage, or failure to deliver photos for any reason is limited to a full refund of any money paid.
Digital Files & Reproduction Rights
Along with printed artwork I provide my clients with digital files for social media and smartphones which you can keep and share forever! This means that I do not give out printable digital files. I’ve watched my clients in the past struggle to manage their files and get them printed, and the results were always unhappy people and bad printing. Here’s how this appears in my wedding and non-commercial portrait contracts:
It is my job to make sure you get the absolute best artwork possible, which can only come from me. Therefore I will keep all the printable digital files. All artwork and albums must be ordered from me.
However, if you are purchasing high resolution, printable digital files from your photographer you will want to receive a signed document outlining your reproduction rights. This document will give you permission to to have these images printed and also describe any restrictions (for example how many photos you can have printed and in what size). If you take a USB stick to a good printer without it they might turn you away. Your reproduction rights might be found in your contract with your photographer if digital files are included with your package, or might be included in a separate document. You can even have your photographer include this document with your photographs on your USB or with your downloadable files.
That’s It Folks
You should be aware that your photographer owns the copyright to all of the photographs she creates for you. But there is no need to worry. This is how we ensure that we are providing you with a quality service, and allows us to create the best artwork possible for you. Be mindful of your contract with your photographer and review her liability clause. Also, if you are purchasing printable digital files remember to get written permission to reproduce your photographs to save any future headaches.