Professional Photographers and Licensing: Copyright Sucks

So, Alex scoured through wedding photographers, we chose one, met them, got the contract… and it stipulates that they own the copyright, and will license the images to us “for personal use”.  So you pay over $3,000 and don’t own the images at the end (without a contract, you would).  That means no Wikipedia of course, but also no Facebook; they’re definitely a commercial organization.  No blogs with ads.  In the unlikely event that Alex or I change careers and want to use a shot for promotional materials, and the photographer has died, gone out of business or moved overseas, we’re out of luck even if we’re prepared to pay for it.

The usual answer (as always with copyright) is to ignore it and lie when asked.  But despite my resolution a few years ago to care less about copyright, this sticks in my craw.  So I asked: it’s another $1,000 for me to own the copyright.  I then started emailing other photographers, and that seems about standard.  But why?  Ignoring the obvious price-differentiation for professional vs amateur clients, photographers are in a similar bind to me: they want to use the images for promotion, say, in a collage in a wedding magazine.  And presumably, the magazine insists they own the copyright.  Since the photographers I emailed had varying levels of understanding of copyright, I can totally understand that simplification.

Fortunately, brighter minds than I have created a solution for this already: Creative Commons licensing.  On recommendation of one of Alex’s friends, we found a photographer who agreed to license the images to us under Creative Commons Attribution without additional charge; in fact, he was delighted to find out about CC, since the clear deeds make it easier for him to explain to his clients what rights they have.  All win!

13 replies on “Professional Photographers and Licensing: Copyright Sucks”

  1. At the last wedding I went to, the photographer set up a website containing small, watermarked thumbnails of the photos and sent the URL out to all of the guests, who could pay something like $5 each for a larger individual print of any of the photos.

    So that’s another reason photographers wouldn’t want to give redistribution rights to the client, I suppose. (My friends getting married were happy that I took lots of photos, uploaded them to Flickr straight away after getting home from the wedding, and put CC-BY-SA on them..)

  2. The is very cool. The only negative [sic :-)] I can see with this approach is that the photographer loses control of print quality. For example, the client gets some reprints done by a shite print shop, they come out dark and crappy, someone see the prints, asks who the photographer was… and Chinese whispers generate negative publicity for the photographer. That’s a tricky one to solve, since some people have bad taste and will proudly display bad prints. I guess that if the photographer’s web site shows the truth then the risk is minimised…

  3. Photographers rights have been a long term expensive part of taking part in big sporting events.

    I have raced in many cycle races over the years and been photographed many times. Usually, post-event, competitors receive an emailed offer to buy prints or digital copies for a lot of money.

    Enter These guys fly a crew from Germany to Australia for major races, take a gazillion photos, fly home and get pics matched to riders in a couple of days. Then they will sell you the hi-res original over the web for sod-all with full rights to reproduce. They would prefer that you credit them with the image but don’t enforce it. Their attitude had me and most riders I know throwing money at them. And I am more than happy to credit any time I post their pics.

    They get it, and make money as a consequence.


  4. A classic reason for this, along with the reason that photographers will only release digital thumbs, is that a _lot_ of clients end up printing/upscaling their pictures on the home printer on standard A4 , and framing that. ( “it’s cheaper than getting a real print, and it is a photo printer!” ) and then telling everyone that it was $Photographer who did it.

    For people who’s livelyhood depends a lot on word of mouth and so on, you basically end up with a “deny first” policy and then allowing when asked. Since you can (usually) assume that a customer who asks about copyright will know a bit better what they do.

    And don’t get me started on people who take a professional photo shoot and loads it into …..

  5. Interestingly it appears that your prospective photographer has already blogged about you putting him onto Creative Commons too, hopefully spreading the word even further.

    As an amateur who sells some prints privately I do all my stuff under a CC-BY license as I want others to be able to reuse my stuff without having to ask, which would be especially hard post-mortem. If people want to buy prints in order to support my photography habit^W hobby then that’s great but I’m very happy for people to just enjoy and reuse them.

  6. This really bothered me, and at the time (2005) I couldn’t manage to find a photographer even willing to let me have the copyright for a reasonable additional fee. Glad to hear you did, and using the Creative Commons license is not something I thought of asking for at the time. Have a great day, I think in this day and age photographers need to realize we want the right to share the photos they take digitally as well as in the traditional album.

  7. Note that we didn’t even look at “charge for prints” photographers: Alex wanted full hires copies and many wedding photographers seem to include that these days (presumably due to Facebook).

    The paranoia around “people will print crappy copies and blame me” seems misplaced. If someone loves the shot enough to print it and show it off, it’s likely the people they’re showing it to will feel the same way, even if it makes Real Photographers cringe. Far better than obscurity.

  8. When we got married we used a photographer who was happy to give us the full res pictures to do what we like with. We asked about getting prints done and he actually said “you don’t want to use me, I’m too expensive”! He is primarily a portrait photographer but does weddings on the side because he enjoys it as it gets him out of the studio and into more interesting environments.

    We just paid him for his time and got DVDs of the images.

    We were a bit lucky in that we didn’t even have to look hard for this. Some friends of ours had used him for their wedding where we were best man and bridesmaid.

    They were flying in from the other side of the globe for their wedding and flying back out shortly after so wouldn’t have had time to liase with the photographer over pictures/prints after the wedding so just getting digital images sent over was important for them.

    I think photographers who are overly concerned about their own portrayal (either through how images may be reproduced or through whacking watermarks on the images to pimp their business) are worth steering clear of. The photos are for the people in front of the lens, not the person behind them.

  9. A friend of mine from the open-source community forwarded your blog post and I knew exactly what you were talking about. I am a semi-professional photographer who has a good amount of wedding photography experience, does licence his stuff with CC for years, and does wedding photography for free for the people who do contribute to the society one way or another. You would be a perfect client for me ;) I’m glad you found a photographer. There are a lot of good photographers out there who knows a lot about not only photography and art, but also how ridiculous copyright conventions are.

    Best wishes.

  10. Some really good thoughts here. I’ve always felt a bit concerned about the whole copyright issue and for a long time it seemed like there was no real answer and that photographers and their clients will always be at war over who actually owns the image.

    With CC, the argument is over and we can all go on with our lives knowing that we each have rights and control over what’s possible and not sweat the rest.

    The idea of a crappy print being shown to a potential client doesn’t bother me. Clients who book me, love who i am, and the work i do. I firmly believe in attracting/repelling clients based on the huge amount of content i put out on the web. Those who don’t like me, won’t book me regardless of how good the “print” is and i’m happy with that. Those who do like me, will book because they feel comfortable with me as a person and also like the work i do regardless of the “print”, and will be better clients for my business and we will probably also be good friends.

    I believe this approach, will bring the industry (kicking and screaming) into the digital age and we can all forget about the old, clandestine ways photographers used to earn a living…


    PS – Rusty, thanks for the mention… i appreciate it very much and i’m looking forward to the wedding!!!

  11. A photographer is an artist you are hiring. You may be the subject of their art but it is still their art and as such they should always own copyright.

  12. Metronomic: If you pay me for something, I don’t get to keep part of it, unless there’s some other agreement in place. That’s how people expect things to work: if you buy it, it’s *yours*, not mine. It’s quite a good system.

    I don’t think “artists” should be magicly different from carpenters, or other trades. But the conflict between normal property rights and copy rights used to be a fringe issue: who owns their own printing press?

    Yet in the digital world copyright claims vast power: in particular, the right to move and share data. Here, I can’t even show you a photograph without making a copy. And that’s why copyright is held in increasing contempt. That is annoying, since I rather like the idea of copyright, since I make a living producing content. But I understand those who think it’s more hassle than it’s worth.

  13. Coming late to this thread, however.. when my wife and I married I discovered the wedding industry mafia – basically as soon as any professional service provider or venue discovers you are getting married they start applying integer multiples to their prices.

    I knew we had found the right reception venue when they didn’t even ask if it was a wedding, we just said we were having a big party with lots of friends and family.

    Photographers are no different.

    I called around until I found a commercial photographer who was prepared to work for hire – we paid his expenses for the day (time + film) and in return he gave us a DVD with mega high resolution TIFF scans of the negatives.

    Cost us something like $500 for the day. Absolute bargain, and great photos.

    Don’t believe the print quality BS – they charge it because they can.

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