Photo Copyright Agreement

By Holly Cameron

Photo copyright agreements set out the terms for using or distributing photographs. Copyright laws in the United States give photographers exclusive rights to use, reproduce and distribute their photos; the law penalizes anyone who violates these rights. Copyright agreements usually set out the conditions for use by others of photos taken by a photographer. The specific terms of each agreement vary according to circumstances.

Ownership of Copyright

Section 102 of the Copyright Act provides that copyright protection applies to original pictorial works. Copyright exists as soon as the image is produced in a fixed form. The photographer, therefore, owns the copyright for any photos that he takes, even if he subsequently uploads the image to a blog or a social media site. Anyone who uses those photos without his permission may have to pay damages for breach of copyright.

Photo Licensing Agreement

A photographer can earn money by licensing the use of a photo, for example, if he allows someone else to insert the photo in a publication or publish the photo on a blog. To protect his own rights, the photographer should enter into a formal licensing agreement to specify the terms of that use. For example, he may limit the license to a single use for a particular purpose, or may charge more for unlimited use. Once signed, the agreement stands as a permanent record of the agreement; it can be referenced in any subsequent legal dispute.

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Transfer of Exclusive Copyright

A photographer may transfer his exclusive copyright to another person or organization if he chooses to do so. This transfer is not valid unless it is set out in writing and signed by the photographer. To avoid any future legal disputes, the new copyright owner may record the transfer with the United States Copyright Office. The Copyright Office does not require any specific form of document for recordation.

Wedding Photograph Agreement

If a couple pays a photographer to take photos of their wedding, they usually enter into a written contract. The contract sets out not only important payment terms, but will also make it clear who owns the copyright for the photos. The agreement may, therefore, state that the photographer retains the copyright in the photos and will specify the conditions that apply to their use. Photographers often want to use wedding photos that they have taken in their own publicity material; it’s a good idea to allow for this in the agreement.

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Does a Breach of License Equal a Copyright Infringement?


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