You found the perfect wedding photographer. They’re in your budget, you love their style of photos, your personalities mesh perfectly, and they’re familiar with your venue. You go to your wedding, they take amazing shots, and you can’t wait to get your hands in the pictures—but then you see in the wedding photogrcontract that they’re technically the owner of all of your photos.
When selecting a photographer, one very important yet often overlooked component is that of legal rights. Who actually owns your photos?
Lots of brides don’t think to ask who owns the copyright to the photos, or even necessarily know what that means. According to Carolyn Wright, from Photoattorney.com, “copyright for photographers means owning property. With ownership, you get certain exclusive rights to that property. For photographic copyrights, the ownership rights include:
- To reproduce the photograph
- To prepare derivative works based upon the photograph
- To distribute copies of the photograph to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending;
- And to display the photograph publicly.”
The copyright ownership belongs to the person who created the art, or in this case, took the pictures: not you. That means your photographer can post the photos wherever they want without your permission, like on their website, Facebook page or a wedding magazine—even ones of you and your groom. It also means that you can’t post them wherever you want without their watermark or a credit to them. It could potentially mean that only your photographer has printing rights, and any prints would need to be ordered from them. If you want to technically own them yourself, you have to buy the rights to them.
Again, it will be different depending on your photographer, but occasionally photographers will offer a copyright release for a certain fee. This is typically a simple letter stating that copyright ownership has been transferred. But buying ownership of photos will be expensive, and that’s if your photographer is even willing to sell the copyright. If you’re thinking you want to buy copyright so you can print from a more affordable printer, think again.
Of course, you don’t need to own the copyright to your wedding photos. Most people don’t! Oftentimes, people prefer the high-quality prints from their photographer, and with the digital nature of modern times, most photographers will give you a flash drive with digital images that you can use as you please, as long as it’s not for profit. You can usually even print them yourself, if you’re given these digital rights. There’s really no need to buy the copyright most of the time, unless you don’t want your photos used in any promotional materials. Even then, just ask your photographer if they would mind not posting your photos publicly and see what they say. It never hurts to ask!
So, What Should I Do?
Don’t panic about copyright issues. Wedding photographers want you as the client to be satisfied, and they want to work together with you to come to a conclusion you both agree on.
So here are some questions to make sure you ask your photographer before you sign your wedding photography contract:
- Who will own the copyright to these photos?
- (If it’s them) How much would it cost to buy the copyright from you, if I wanted? Is that something you’d be open to?
- Will I have rights to the digital images (i.e., can I print them myself from Shutterfly? Can I post them on Facebook without a watermark?)
- Will these photos go in your portfolio?
- Where will you be posting them?
- Will they be used for any promotional materials?
- Will you be submitting them to any websites or publications?
If you aren’t making a bunch of money by sharing your photos on Facebook, it’s highly unlikely that a photographer will really get upset. These are all just factors that you need to have open communication about. Copyright law isn’t something you need to be stressing over as your wedding approaches—it’s just something to keep in the back of your mind!