You took the picture, but I own the copyright...right?

March 26, 2019  •  Leave a Comment

Photography is not a regulated industry. It's like the Wild West out there. Every person with a camera can say they are a professional without any accreditation or even experience. This is great in some ways, you just need a camera and maybe some editing software to get started; it's also a challenge because each of us can use our own terminology to explain what we are providing to you, the client.

The digital negative of a photo is quite similar to a film negative. You may have heard of "RAW" images, this is the digital equivalent to the roll of film you used to pull out of a camera. It needs to be developed. A true RAW image is dull and slightly unfocused. If a photographer shows you the back of their camera that is actually a JPEG preview of what the camera determines the final image should look like. This may not be anything close to what the photographer will actually create for the final image. 

When you tell a photographer you just want a single picture and they don't have to edit it. You are asking for one frame from a roll of film. What will you do with that? Do you have the equipment to "develop" this digital version of that film? The answer is...probably not.   

There is plenty of confusion within the industry itself about what "rights" are to digital files. Some new and even some experienced photographers will tell you they are giving you "Copyright" to the photos they took of your family. While that would be a crazy amazing deal, it's probably not the true intention.

 I want to share the terms you will see on the T2S website and what they mean. 

Personal Use License

This is going to be the most common type of digital image "release" or "license". Personal use is something T2S provides for beYOUtiful and Senior sessions. The photos from these sessions are not intended to be used for commercial purposes (i.e. advertising, marketing, publication, etc.). The exception is one of the senior photos taken will be published in a yearbook, which is allowed. If you write a book about your senior year and publish it, using any of the photos from a Senior session would be considered commercial use and not included with the Personal Use License, more on that in a bit.

Most family photographers are providing you a personal use license to use their photos. When you see you have "all rights" or "printing rights", the typical assumption is that you will use these image for your own personal use. Maybe print a few to hang on your walls or send some to family with your holiday card. Most photographers providing "all rights" are not intending for the photos to be used in advertising a business or selling them to a stock site. 

Personal use also comes with some extra requests from the photographer. Something like asking to be tagged or given credit on social media when posting the photos is very common under this type of license. Be sure to read your contract with the photographer carefully as you may be limited to where the images may be published and what you can do with those images. In the T2S contract we ask that you don't edit the images you are provided, this includes no Instagram filters or cropping. 

Commercial Use License

This is a much less common "release" or "license" seen from a family photographer, however pretty much standard with a commercial photographer. Commercial Use Licenses are provided for all other T2S session types: headshots, personal brand, and retail marketing. 

Commercial use licenses give you much more freedom with the developed digital images from your photographer. Images with commercial use license from T2S include great benefits like editing: need to crop the photo, go for it; have a specific Insta filter you use, have at it; want to draw a mustache on your face; sure I guess; adding text to the image, yup that's just fine; tagging on every post, nope not necessary.

Many commercial licenses have what I'll call a time or impressions limit. This means after a certain pre-determined amount of time (say 1 year) or specific number of views (say 10,000), you owe the photographer money to renew the license to continue using their image (yup the photographer still owns it). Curious about the standard prices for the industry? Check out the Getty rights-managed calculator. This is very common practice and very impractical for T2S to manage. For this reason things are a little different at T2S. Commercial use licenses through T2S are in perpetuity. This means in 1 year I won't come calling to renew the rights to the image, you can keep using it wherever you have been for as long as you want. While you may think the upfront cost of hiring T2S is a bit steep, you won't be paying for these images again (unless you want a copyright transfer). It's a worthwhile investment.

Copyright Release

Here we go, the big one. The thing I am asked about most. Also probably the most misused word in the industry. 

The copyright of an image belongs to the person who pushed the shutter. Ever hear of the monkey who took a selfie? Believe it or not, a copyright transfer actually involves paperwork. Very specific descriptions of the photos, filenames, sometimes even a notarized signature on the contract where a photographer is transferring their rights to an image(s) they took to the business or individual purchasing it. Copyright transfers may not even involve completed images, you may receive the true digital negative or RAW image to edit and store on your own servers. At T2S this also means there will not be a backup of those images on our servers. They become your responsibility. 

This is the most expensive thing you can buy from a photographer as it is worth the most to their business and livelihood. When you do a copyright transfer or release the photographer now has to ask you if they can post or publish the images, and you can say NO! This means if they took a stellar image for you and you now own that image through a copyright transfer, they can't use it in their portfolio to show others what they can do without getting written permission from you, the copyright holder. 

While it's best practice even after transferring copyright to not claim you took the images, you also don't have to give credit or tell people who the photographer is, this is all laid out in the copyright transfer. Without being able to show examples of client work or the guarantee of a referral from the new owner, a photographer could potentially lose thousands of dollars in revenue. This is why purchasing a copyright release is usually based per image and is quite expensive. 

Letting your photographer know your needs

Make sure your expectations of how you want to use the images taken by your photographer are clear. While T2S has set up most session types to fall under the Commercial Use License category, this may not be the case for other photo studios. 

Having a conversation in advance will help you get the results you want. Knowing the end use is also helpful for shooting your images correctly. If you need every image to work as a Facebook cover image, how the photos are set up will be different to make sure there is space for cropping versus needing square images for Instagram. 

It takes a little more time and effort, but it's worth getting what you need from your session and photographer the first time. Being disappointed because of miscommunication is never a good way to start out what could be a great business and personal relationship with your professional photographer. 


Want to talk about your next session or have questions? Send a message or call 402-557-8600.



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