What many people don’t know is that I am a lawyer in addition to being a social media addict. True story. Knowing the law has helped me out a lot in this game, and I want to share some useful tips. First off, specifically for my photographer friends, here are some FAQs about copyright ownership:
Do I need to register photos to have a copyright?
No. Generally speaking, as soon as you take a picture, you own a copyright in that picture. You don’t have to register it anywhere. You can register it if you want to; this is just making a public record of the fact that you already own the copyright. Registering is a legal formality that is mainly helpful if you're real serious about suing some mofos for infringing on your work.
Essentially, it boils down to:
But what if I am taking photos for a wedding / a brand / the company I work for?
Great question, smarty pants. This depends on the agreement that you made with the couple / brand / company.
For a wedding or family photo shoot:
You will typically retain the copyright, unless you make a different agreement. You can still post the photo on your social media, on your web site, and print a copy whenever you like. It used to be that wedding togs kept a close hold on their copyrights, and charged a couple a hefty sum per re-print of a photo. Nowadays, it is more common for the photographers to grant a license to the couple or family so they can use the photos on social media and reprint them when they want to.
For a brand:
This is pretty dependent on the brand. For most freelance social media influencing gigs, you will retain your own copyright and will grant a very liberal license to the brand to use your photo. For freelance gigs that are more about content creation for a brand, the company may stipulate in a contract that it is “work made for hire.” This means the copyright in the photos belongs to them. It’s as though the company took the picture. You would have to be granted a license by them to use the photos on your web site, social media, portfolio, etc. In practice, most companies are not total d-bags and won’t give you a hard time for using these types of photos in an online portfolio. However, they would not be too pleased if you upload the photos to a stock image site and made money off of selling additional licenses. So don’t do that.
For the company you work for:
If you’re employed by a company as a photographer, chances are they own the copyright to your work-related photos. You can’t post them to any of your own channels, and the company may take issue with you keeping your work in a public portfolio. The company gets to do whatever they want with your photos. Sorry, their photos.
If you’re employed by a company as an accountant, but your boss asked you to take head shots of Keith in HR for the company web site, you would own that copyright because taking photos is not really related to the job you are employed to do.
If you go out shooting with friends after work or even take jobs as part of a side-hustle, those photos are separate.
Any other questions on copyright ownership of your photos? HMU in comments below or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Clearly this information is not legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship.
Blogging my path as a professional photojournalist / social media addict / influencer