Every week, hundreds of clients of professional photographers receive a USB stick with their family or wedding photographs. And most of my clients ask if they now own the copyright to their photographs.
This is a great question to ask, and I understand why a lot of people want to know about this. Because if you want to enjoy your photographs for years to come, you really need to be on the right side of the law.
What this article is going to do is explain the difference between “Copyright” and “The right to make copies”. At the end of this article you will know what you can and cannot do with the photographs you have been given by your photographer.
“Copyright” in the UK is automatically assigned to the person who creates a piece of work, a photograph, a poem etc. And the copyright remains in place for 70 years from the date when the piece of work / photograph was created.
If a photographer, who runs their own business, takes photographs of your wedding, or your children, or your products - the photographer owns the copyright.
However, if you want to make your own prints from the photographs on a USB stick you may have received from your wedding or family photographer, you need to get permission from your photographer, i.e. the “right to make copies”.
Most reputable photography labs will not allow you to hand in a USB stick with photographs which were obviously taken by a professional (it simply shows by the quality of the photos). Legally, they should ask you to produce a permission letter or email or some sort of document which states that you - the client - has got the right to make copies.
This does not mean, that you own copyright, though.
Many photographers provide clients with a memory stick with their wedding or family photographs, precisely so that the client can order their own prints. Photographers are very aware that this is likely to happen, and that they are losing out on potential print sales. That’s why a USB memory stick usually comes with a price tag.
So if you receive a memory stick from your photographer with high resolution images, here’s what you can do with them:
And here’s what you are not allowed to do with the provided photographs:
The copyright owner can do all of these things, but you - the client - only have a “licence” to create prints or products with the photographs on them - for your own personal use (or for a present for granny - should you wish to do so).
So what about sharing the photos on Facebook, you may ask? The photographer might issue you with an additional set of photographs which have their logo on the images and you may then share these photographs online. This is simply to prevent other people from stealing the work of your photographer and pretending they took the images.
This is just a very rough outline to explain the difference between Copyright and the Right to make copies. Please always check with your photographer and ask for their Terms & Conditions as their own rules may apply.