Information on Copyright

January 05, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

Photography and Photographers Copyright

Knowing the legal position on how and when images can be used is essential for both professional photographers and their clients.

The copyright in a photograph belongs to the person who took it:
Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 - the only exception being employed photographers, where it is his or her employer who owns the copyright unless they have a contractural agreement to the contrary.

In practice, this means that clients may only use photographs taken by a professional photographer in ways that have been agreed at the time they were commissioned. If further uses are required at a later date, permission must be sought from the copyright holder and an additional fee agreed.

Copyright lasts for 70 years after the end of the year in which the author dies and offers protection against unauthourised reproduction of the photographs and entitles the owner to economic benefit from it.

For this reason, it is essential that clients specify the uses to which images be used - preferbly in writing - when briefing a photographer and requesting a quotation. This agreement then forms part of the contract. The contract should cover how the work will be used, where (geographically) it will be used and for how long it will be used.

Copyright can be assigned to another person or company, but only if the photographer agrees. Assignment of copyright should normally be in writing, although an oral agreement could be considered binding. With simple images that are unlikely to have no wider commercial value, such as a pack-shot of a recognisable product, some photographers will be happy to asign copyright to their client. However, where the picture is more creative, or has further economic potential, for example as a library stock shot, it is essential that copyright remains with the photographer.

A 'win-win' solution would be for the client to be granted exclusive rights for an agreed period of time. Assigning only those rights required by the client may allow the photographer to offer a more competitive day rate or shot rate rhan if all imaginable usage rights were granted.

It should be noted that while the client who commissioned the work may hold onto it, the photographer, being the copyright owner, has a clear right of access to the material. Once the licensed period has expired, the photographer has the right to have the originals returned in good condition.

At the end of the day, it is in the interests of all parties to know what is being agreed, hence the importance of a written contract.


Intellectual Property Office

The Intellectual Property Office (www.ipo.gov.uk) is the official government body responsible for granting Intellectual Property (IP) Rights in the United Kingdom. There is comprehensive information on Copyright and licensing on their website, www.ipo.gov.uk.  Their Information Centre are able to answer general copyright enquiries, they cannot give opinions or advice on infringement. They can be contacted on 0300 300 2000 or [email protected].


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