Copyright vs Print Release

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 dvd do I then own the copyright?

In my case, no. My custom printed dvd’s 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 dvd 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 shoot 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 dvd. 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 dvd with their coverage (weddings) and those who have purchased the dvd 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;-)

  • KansasFan - September 21, 2011 - 2:35 pm

    You are an amazing artist and your work is brilliant. This post? Over the top and not necessary.ReplyCancel

    • kansas - September 21, 2011 - 2:48 pm

      Thanks Sarah! I am so sorry you feel that way about the post-I have seen photogs write mean and scathing posts about this topic so I was trying to be educational and informative. What do you find offensive about it?ReplyCancel

  • Diann - September 21, 2011 - 4:06 pm

    100% agree Kansas… Unfortunately I think people DO have to be reminded about copyright and what it means… and people do need to respect your art and not just “take” it. It has VALUE and it’s sad people don’t always respect that. It’s easy to just right click and copy an image and use it anyway you want. That doesn’t make it RIGHT! :(
    I did not find your post over the top… I think you were just trying to be informative and give another prospective that people need to be mindful of.
    I tried years ago to start my own business, but all I ended up with was people stealing the images and never ordering prints (at the time, prints were still a popular buy) from me or buying the CD. I finally gave up on having a profitable business. I admire that you have made your business work so well for you and that most of your clients are respectful and appreciative of the work you do… as they should be. :)ReplyCancel

  • Jill Shadden - September 25, 2011 - 11:46 pm

    GREAT post! Many people just need to be informed.ReplyCancel

  • stacey - September 26, 2011 - 6:29 am

    Thanks for posting! More clients need to educated on thi topic!ReplyCancel

  • Kelly - September 26, 2011 - 10:55 am

    Wonderful post Kansas! Well said!ReplyCancel

  • Cora Mae Ofstie - November 27, 2011 - 1:33 am

    I think your post on the whole issue of copyrights on photos was well written and informative. I am not a photographer, but have friends who are and I know they have had some of these issues. Thank You for helping to inform us.ReplyCancel

  • Elizabeth Mullins - February 13, 2012 - 2:55 pm

    I don’t think this was over the top or unnecessary. I actually had someone pull out their camera phone while I was shooting and take pics! What’s sad is I was doing the shoot pro bono and they were getting a cd of images anyway!More people need to be informed. We need TV adds like the music industry did about downloading.ReplyCancel

    • kansas - February 13, 2012 - 3:15 pm

      Thanks guys ;-) I appreciate the feedback and the opinions!ReplyCancel

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