What is a copyright and why is it important to learn about it?

Why don't I get the right to use the images wherever I want?

When a client insists on unlimited use of the images they have commissioned, this can be an unnecessary and costly affair.

An unlimited licence includes every possible media including billboards, videos, TV, CDs, t-shirts etc., for worldwide use for the term of copyright (70 years after the photographer dies).

This type of unrestricted licence is unnecessary, it is highly unlikely that the vast extent of uses it includes would ever be taken up. If professional models are needed for the shoot, their charges also reflect the use to which the image is to be used. The price for this type of licence would be enormous and you would be paying for use you do not need.

If I've paid for the film, processing or digital files why can't I keep, and use, all the work?

If you buy a copy of a book, computer software or a CD, making that purchase doesn’t give you the right to make copies of it, or broadcast it to the public. That right remains with the copyright owner. It is the same with image files.

There is a difference between the medium (eg transparency/ negative/digital file) and the content (the image) but one is of no use without the other. If you were to claim ownership to the transparency this doesn’t mean you own its content. The image in the file or transparency is the copyright of the photographer and without a licence to use, it would be illegal to reproduce it.

Raw files are never supplied by the photographer, the photographer was chosen for his skill and the post-production work is part of that skill. You will be supplied with images that are of the best quality and ready to use.

The images will be exclusive to you, so, by law, the photographer cannot licence them to another client whilst you have an exclusive licence to use them.

Why you shouldn’t assign copyright:

  • You will lose control of how and where your images are used
  • They can sell/licence your work to a third party
  • If the company goes under, the copyright in your images becomes an asset in the liquidation of the company
  • If the company is sold your copyright images go with them to be used by others
  • The fee you receive will not be commensurate with such wide use

How/what should you negotiate:

  • Explain you do not assign copyright, that you license your work
  • They do not need copyright, they need an exclusive licence to use
  • They do not need all media, worldwide, in perpetuity
  • The cost of all the usage a total rights assignment gives is extremely high
  • Show them the copyright4clients website
  • Ask them exactly where they need to use the work so that you can price the job fairly
  • Offer an exclusive licence (allows the client to control the work during the negotiated term)

Information gathered from the Association of Photographers. For more detailed information on copyright, please visit http://www.the-aop.org/