wedding photos and ownership rights

Discussion in 'Wedding and Event' started by joshschutz, Jun 7, 2009.

  1. i'm going to be doing my first wedding later this summer. the client and i have been talking to get everything set up. i told her that i want to have a joint ownership on the photos. meaning she can do what she wants with them, and i can do what i want with them. she won't even agree to me using them for my own self promotion. what is standard in the industry. who actually owns them. what do/would you do.
  2. You make the photograph, you own the copyrights. Unless you specifcally arrange to assign those copyrights to someone else... which you should never do, unless you are being very well rewarded.

    Note that owning the copyrights is not the same as having unlimited use of the images. You have to strike a licensing deal with the client that grants them exclusive use before you cease to have use, yourself. It's one thing to do a (very!) expensive commercial shoot - say, for a large corporation - that either is "for hire" (in which case they own the copyrights) or grants them exlusive use of the images to the exclusion of your own portfolio use ... but it's another thing entirely to let go of those rights at typical wedding rates.

    You asked about the industry standard, but what you really need to familiarize yourself (and your client!) with is copyright law. In the US, the person who creates the work owns the copyrights, from the moment it's created. The only exception would be work done "for hire," which typically involves actualy employment, or a contract that specifically sets that relationship. Very, very few gigs - like weddings - are for hire arrangements, and thus the photographer owns the copyrights. The licensing terms are a separate issue.

    There are many discussions along these lines here on PN - definitely use the search feature for some good reading.

    Keep in mind: what the law is, what your contract says ... important. But your relationship with the customer, and the value of the word-of-mouth marketing that stems from it - that's even more important. So write a contract that allows you to also have a good relationship. But whatever you do, don't surrender your copyrights, and include language that allows you use your work in your own portfolio... or indicate that you must charge a great deal more if you are going to give up those important rights.
  3. There is no standard. Glad you did talk to her about it before the wedding, so she can select another photographer for the wedding.
    Some others did drag wedding photos through mud and abuse on public web sites, for their own benefit of self promotion.
  4. If you have a contract, you can provide for pretty much any kind of ownership and licensing. If you don't have a contract, the various "rights," etc., default to whatever the laws provide for. If you don't have a written contract, you are potentially set up for a series of disputes and misunderstandings. "Oral" contracts may be valid and binding but establishing what was actually agreed to can be difficult.
    Copyright and ownership is one set of considerations. That gets into who owns the rights and can (try to) control other people's uses of the images, making copies, publishing them, etc. However, an individual also has rights depending on the state and country as to how their own image can be used. These are in areas like privacy, defamation and "publicity."
    Privacy seems pretty straight forward, if the bride allows "getting ready" pictures in her undies or less that she wants to share later with the new hubby, sharing them on some forum for a discussion of processing, posing or lighting techniques might be a really bad idea. Identifying the bride or her mother as the worst Bridezilla and Mother of Kong you've ever come across in your career as they got drunker and drunker before the service began could be defamatory. The right of publicity (or to publicity) is one in which the individual controls the right to use of their own persona/image commercially. Typically that means as to endorsements, etc.,, not that they can control sale of the image. So one can typically sell wedding pictures to the various participants, families, etc., and you don't need permission from everyone involved. However, you would need permission to use images with identifiable individuals to promote your own business (and were you to give a great venue or food shot to the venue or caterer, etc., they'd need permission from identifiable people to use the images to promote their businesses.). Generally an individual can only sign for themselves so if the couple signs "release" language in the contract, it won't apply to those members of the wedding party, family or guests that didn't sign. These laws aren't necessarily consistent from state to state or country to country so having a good understanding of local laws is very important.
    What this generally means in the US is that many photographers include promotional release language in their basic contracts. Not all do. So the photographer "owns" the copyright as few customers understand or are sophisticated enough to make it a "work for hire" contract, but the photographer or others would need permission from any identifiable individuals to use the iomages promotionally.
  5. is there a 'standard' contract that i can attain online?
  6. A suggestion: try a Google serach for
    Photographer Wedding Contract
    and you should get a few examples.
  7. Josh,
    First, as others have noted, you did very well by having this conversation with your (potential) client ahead of time.
    Second, nothing is "standard", especially in the wild but wonderful world of wedding photography.
    In my information package, I include a write-up (courtesy of PPA) about copyright, why it stays with me as the photographer and the importance of it. My contract also reinforces the fact that I own the copyright. One of the over-looked reasons for educating the clients about copyright is this; many couples will take their prints into a local camera store and ask them to scan and make more prints. The camera stores (as well as Wal-Mart, Costco, Walgreens, etc. - all the quick print stores) will refuse to do because of the liability involved with copyright infringement. I've seen people scream at those poor clerks. But, if I can educate my clients, that's one less nasty surprise waiting for them (and me) down the road.
    In Illinois, where I reside, I cannot use images that contain a person's likeness without their written consent: I cannot claim any oral or implied release (ILCS 765 - Illinois Right of Publicity Act).
    So, to lessen the blow, I offer my bridal couples a 10% discount across the board if they sign a limited model release to let me use the images. It's hard on people who aren't familiar with copyright laws or even just photography practices to see themselves pay several thousand dollars and STILL now "own" the rights and then see the photographer use those pictures to make more money.
    By having them sign the release and offer a discount, they know ahead of time that I *might* use the pictures but, regardless of whether or not I use them, they get a discount of a few hundred dollars. So they are getting something in return for granting me the right to use the images for self-promotion and advertising.
    I have never had a client not sign the release.
    One last thought - if you are going to get into wedding photography there are a few items that I believe are critical to your success. Two of them are an iron-clad wedding photography contract and a model release. You really need to have them written or, at least, proofread by an entertainment attorney in your state. It can cost several hundred dollars, or more, if they write these. Instead, do a Google search for both "wedding contract" and "model release (your name of state )" and craft your own.
    Once you have put your own together, then have an attorney proofread and edit them. At worst, you'll do a terrible job, the attorney will have to write it from scratch, and you're no further behind. At best, they will have just a few changes to make and you will have saved a few hundred dollars.
    Properly constructed contracts are the lifeblood of wedding photographers. God forbid you ever need to refer back to it in case of a client dispute but, if you do, you'll be thanking yourself for paying just a few hundred dollars then instead of thousands now.
  8. You need a contract that says:
    1. Copyright remains with the photographer.
    2. The images are licensed to the client for personal use only, including reproduction rights, and that the license is perpetual and at no cost.
    3. The photographer has all moral rights to the images.
    4. The photographer reserves the right to use the images for self-promotion but no other commercial purpose.
    All of the above to be constructed in a form of contract that is appropriate for the legal jurisdiction where you reside. Get professional advice if you're unclear about the law.
  9. I may have missed it but ... you need to know what to "give" the bride.
    Give her full "RePrint Rights" within her circle of family and friends. Let her know this is the norm in the industry and that your ownership of the Copyrights is also the norm.
    Generally it's a matter of teaching the bride that your copyright and your usage of the photos is "the norm" in the industry and there is nothing unusual in it at all.
    Of course you can let her know your price to sell her the copyrights if she's insistant ... um ... $500? Does she still want them? Just assure her that you understand her concerns but you're offering her the average deal that all brides get with thier photographer.
  10. For my standard prices the clients can reproduce and use the photos for personal, non-commercial use, and I retain the copyright. For double my normal prices the client gets the copyright.
  11. Ditto Matt, except I don't give up copyright.
    They do have reprint rights though.
  12. I would find someone else to do my first wedding with, for many reasons. The main one being if they won't budge at all on this one issue, how are you going to make them happy with the acutal photographs.
    Unless you are a very, very patient and flexible person, this does not sound like the way to start things off.
  13. A different twist - your client has a right to their privacy. If they don't want me to use their images, I never force them to. It happens 1 out of 25-50 times, so I just live with it. If you're charging them a fair price so that you're making nice money from them, what's to gain here? They're letting you know up front, so be kind to your customer. They're not all the same and you can't treat everyone the same as they all have their sensitivities....-Aimee
  14. Josh some good advice here. I assume you are in the US? If so, you own the copyright by default. Copyright ownership differs from country to country.
  15. I would agree with Aimee - perhaps she's sensitive about the kids' photos appearing online, or she or a member of her family is in a witness protection programme, or an illegal immigrant - who knows? If you have plenty of other weddings to fall back on for portfolio/promo stuff, I'd respect her wishes in that regard - but I wouldn't surrender copyright. Part of the problem I feel is your bride is misunderstanding the principles and you weren't able to give a convincing answer at the time. You certainly shouldn't ask for copyright, that's yours by default in most legal systems and perhaps she is assuming your usage would be more invasive than you intend.
    Standard practice, and seemingly the consensus on this thread so far, is:
    • you keep the copyright
    • she gets to have them for personal use or printing if you are including digital files
    Likewise, a contract frequently includes a clause to the effect of allowing the photographer to use the images for:
    • portfolio
    • self-promotion (i.e. your own website/flyers/adverts/business card - but be careful about guests, I'd try to use only the B+G)
    • critique (posting here or elsewhere for technical or aesthetic comment - but as said, it would be unwise to post a half-dressed bride on a burlesque/fetish photo site, or anything else deemed controversial by the mainstream)
    • competitions (or submissions for professional or academic qualifications).
    Unlike copyright, these are not hard-and-fast rules, but points where you can negotiate with your client at your discretion. You have to weigh giving up these rights against your determination to maintain your client's commission.
    You would need a more formal model release from each subject in the image for selling or giving the image to third parties which took usage out of your control - e.g. advertising, stock library, or publication in a book sold to the public. Your holding of the copyright essentially prevents your client doing this with photos you have taken for them and benefitting from your work and talent. If they have the copyright, your photos could end up on the cover of a Conde Nast mag or the Graphistudio homepage and you wouldn't get a penny or even a credit ;-)
    A good starting point for many forms and contracts is Tad Crawford's "Business and Legal Forms for Photographers". It's US-centric but can be adapted as you see fit. It is always prudent to run such things past a qualified legal professional if you are using them for business.
  16. These are their personal photos, so they have a right to control how they're handled and not made to feel uncomfortable about it. If you were photographing a celebrity client, you would have to sign a non-disclosure form not even allowing you to disclose who your client is, much less use the images.....-Aimee

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