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Copyright/DVD/Print Release Information

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As of yet I have never felt compelled to write this post but I have a scenario that I think now warrants it. First, let me say that my clients are amazing and I have never had a client who I think has intentionally violated the copyright laws. I think most people are not aware of the laws that govern photographs and protect those that create the images. With the advent of facebook, flickr, blogging, etc. these laws have never been more important to photographers.

Basically, when a photographer creates an image, at that very moment that image is copyrighted and this gives the photographer or creator of the image the exclusive right to copy, edit, distribute, post on facebook, blog, etc. etc. etc. by sale or transfer. These rights, given to the photographer or creator of the image, by The Copyright Act, therefore make it illegal for anyone else (even if you are in the image but as long as you have signed a model release) to copy, scan, edit, print, distribute digital or printed versions of the image without the photographer’s permission. This is a Federal Law and can be prosecuted as such. This is serious-it is stealing. And this copyright lasts for 70 years after I am dead (the creator of the image) so after that people, its a free for all! That means that if I do your newborn images and die the next day, when your baby is 70 they can do whatever they want with the images-cool huh?

So I know some of you reading this think I am blowing this out of proportion. I get that and before I was a photographer I didn’t really understand the ramifications and why we would need such a law. As a photographer I set my pricing in order to run my business effectively just as you negotiate your salary with your boss to do your job and get paid justly for your work. Therefore, when images are stolen, and not paid for, this takes away from my earnings just as if your boss decided to only pay you a half day when you worked the entire day just because he could. That’s not fair right? This is a case in point and why I decided to write this post:

I shot a gorgeous session not too long ago and the person did not realize that the session did not come with a dvd of images. I am very clear on my pricing and, although my wedding package comes with high resolution dvd’s with a print release (more on that later), my portrait/newborn sessions do not-those are to be ordered at your discretion. The email asked if I could post more images on facebook so they would not have Proof written across them as they do in my client’s ordering/proofing gallery because she wanted to make 4×6’s to use for scrapbooking purposes.  See, I know she not being facetious about taking the images and was just unaware of the copyright laws, otherwise she would not have come out and asked. So what this means is that since her session did not come with digital images she thought she could take the ones from Facebook and download them and go print them. This is a clear violation of The Federal Copyright Law and is prosecutable and more importantly, disrespectful of my business, my craft.

My business model (and session pricing) is built around the assumption that those who have a session will also buy prints or digital images from their session otherwise my session pricing would be much higher. Some photographers even charge a session fee of, say $2000, of which only $500 is the session fee and the rest can be spent on products thereby making sure their clients spend a minimum and have no reason to steal. I don’t do that-I have no need to. My clients have treated me very well and I have no complaints.  Some photographers do not even sell digital images-you can only  buy the prints/other products with the images on them but, if it were me, I would want the digital images so I make those available to my clients.

Your next question may be-So if I buy the digital images on flash drive do I then own the copyright?

In my case, no. My custom flash drives come in gorgeous custom printed cases but they come with a print release, not a copyright release. I still own the copyright to the images however you are free to take the drive and get as many prints as you want, in any size, anywhere. You can upload them to online labs or take them to Wal-Mart (which I don’t recommend) and print til your little heart is content-I will even give you recommendations!  But you may not edit the images in any way, let others use them for advertising (such as children’s clothing boutiques-that requires a commercial license which is a whole ‘nother thing!) or enter them into contests (like for Parenting magazine covers) without permission. You may not make copies of the drive. If in doubt, just email me! I am not a tyrant and will usually grant permission (with proper credit, of course) but it is really about respect for my art.

So I can print from Facebook?

No. I own the copyright to those images and give explicit permission for people to tag themselves, share the link, etc. without cropping out my logo and also making sure they are giving me credit-that is the only right to those images posted-no printing, no downloading, no screen grabs, etc.  The images are sized in such a way they won’t make good prints anyway, which makes it even worse if someone does print them-it makes my work look bad. That is another reason it is simply not allowed.  Because of the issues photographers are having I have almost eliminated the sneak peek’s that I used to do. I loved putting a cute little album online for my clients to share and love because I know they are so anxious to see them but I have almost discontinued that policy with the exception of those who get the digitals with their coverage (weddings) and those who have purchased the digitals already. But, let’s face it, sometimes I am so in love with an image I have to post it and just trust my clients!

Questions about your rights?

Contact the PPA-Professional Photographers Association and they will help!

Photographers, if you have anything to add please let me know! I may have missed something 😉


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