There are many places you can learn about the legality of copyrights in a very general nature – Copyright information
However, I wanted to be very specific about copyrights, how they apply to YOUR wedding images, and what it all means in plain English.
What I am sharing is not our view on copyright’s, it the federal government’s view. This will be true for any photographer you hire as well.
Question: When is a copyright made?
Answer: The moment a photographer takes the image, it is the possession of the photographer with respect to the copyright. He owns it and based on the language in your contract, the photographer can use it to the extent allowed. The photographer would liable if he (or she) were to use the images without your permission (see your contract and/or model release).
Question: As a copyright owner, what else do I need to do?
Answer: Having taken the image does not register the images with the US Copyright office. This must be done before a transfer can be accomplished. If your photographer does not register his (or her) work with the copyright office, you can never obtain the copyright transfer.
Question: How do I get the copyright or have the copyright transferred to me?
Answer: Once the images have been registered, a transfer can be done via a separate contract (see your lawyer) and the transfer can be recorded in the US copyright office in Washington.
Question: So this seems like a lot of work for a copyright, why go through all this?
Answer: For some types of commercial photography, ownership of the images is critical. Copyright violation and theft of images happens often. Although it is possible, yet somewhat unlikely, people may be interested in using your wedding images for publications where they could receive financial compensation.
Question: What if I don’t have the copyright to my wedding images? I can still do whatever I want with them because of the print release, right?
Answer: Actually, no you cannot do whatever you would like. Most photographers provide a print release which means you can print the image as it was taken. Displaying the image online is a grey area, but for most photographers acceptable as long as you don’t crop or edit the image.
What you cannot do under the regulations of your print release:
- You cannot edit the image in any way. This would be altering the work which could be compared to adding your own oil paints to a painting someone else painted.
- You cannot publish the image (even if you are not receiving financial compensation) to any online blogs, forums, etc. Some photographers will publish your images to a blog and some will allow you through another release, the ability to publish (sometimes at an additional cost)
- You cannot create your own wedding albums. Although this happens all the time, you should be aware that you are violating federal copyright law by using someone else’s images (your photographer’s) and creating a book without copyright transfer. Some believe this is a “grey area” for the print release provided by your photographer. I cannot speak to the actual legalities of this, but it would be better to either purchase your wedding album through your photographer or obtain a legal copyright transfer from your photographer prior to ordering your album (remember the clause about you owning copyright of all images when you order your book? That is why that is stated as such).