Copyrights for Photographers

Q: What is a copyright?
A: A copyright gives its owner the right to copy, distribute, publicly display or create derivative works from the original work. A copyright also gives its owner the right to license those rights to others.

Q: What else does copyright cover?
A:
The same law that protects photography also protects music, motion pictures, magazines, books, choreography, sculptures and more.

Q: How do I copyright my photographs?
A:
Your images are copyrighted from the moment you create them. While this copyright exists, the government has set up barriers to enforcing those rights -so getting “full” copyright protection involves registering your work with the U.S. Copyright Office.

Q: Who owns the copyright?
A:
You do. However, if you are an employee or independent contractor, your employer owns the copyright if you signed a work-for-hire agreement.

Q: How long does a copyright last?
A:
The current copyright term is the life of the creator plus 70 years -or, for works “created” by a corporation, 95 years.

Q: Can I copyright my business name and/or logo?
A:
No. Business names and logos are eligible for trademark protections, not copyright. Although both are forms of intellectual property, their protection and registration processes differ from each other. For information on how to trademark your business and/or logo, contact the appropriate agency within your state or the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office at www.uspto.gov.

Q: My client claims that since they hired me, they own the rights – is that true?
A:
No. Your client is misinterpreting the legal term “work for hire.” Work-for-hire status grants a company the copyright to a work created by one of its employees during the scope of his or her employment. Your clients are hiring you as an independent contractor—not an employee—so the work-for-hire claim does not apply.

Q: How do you transfer a copyright?
A:
In order to be considered valid, a copyright transfer must be made in writing between yourself and person or firm requesting your copyrights.

Q: Does owning the copyright mean I can do anything I want with my images?
A:
No. While you own the copyright to your work, your clients and subjects also have a right to privacy. Based on that, you should always have a signed model release on file.

Q: What does “registration” mean?
A:
Registration involves sending your work to the U.S. Copyright Office along with some paperwork and a registration fee – in exchange for a greatly increased ability to enforce your rights.

Q: Do I need to mark my work?
A:
Technically, a copyright mark is not required for protection. However, as a practical matter, we encourage members to mark all of their work. The position of the mark is up to your own personal taste: embossed on the front of a print, the back of the print or in the image file properties. Also, if you mark your work, it prevents an infringer from claiming “innocent” infringement, which would lead to reduced damages.

Q: If someone gives me a photo credit, does that mean they did not infringe?
A:
No. Giving you a photo credit has no bearing on whether or not an infringement exists. Absent a written agreement to the contrary, you are the only one permitted to make copies of your work in most circumstances.

Q: I shared an image with the newspaper and did not receive photo credit. Is that copyright infringement?
A:
No, there is no automatic right to a photo credit. You can make photo credit a requirement of your licensing or other usage agreement. Failure to abide by the agreement (such as lack of photo credit when required) is copyright infringement

Q: I posted some images on my website; does that mean they are in the public domain?
A:
Even the images you post online are protected by copyright law. Remember, your images are copyright protected from the moment you create them. If you find that another website contains your copyrighted material, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) allows the copyright holder to send a letter to a website’s Internet Service provider or Copyright Abuse Agent to request the copyright-protected material be removed.

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