But it’s my photo or is it? About Copyright

This Copyright thing! Whose photo is it?

People are confused about this Copyright thing, it is not just you, but even some people in the business of stock photography are confused.

Long time ago, before I opened my portrait studio, I went on a cruise with a bunch of friends. On cruises, they take lots of photos of you, and you can buy them if you like. If there is a photo of 4 of us, shall we buy 4 copies? or buy one and make some copies ourselves? It turned out that even though the idea crossed my mind, I never did it, somehow in the back of my mind, I knew there was something unsavory about making copies of them. In fact, it would be illegal to do so. I doubt the cruise company will be taking people to court over this, but that doesn’t make it less wrong.

When a photographer takes a photo, he owns the copyright of the photo, period! If you take a photo using someone else’s camera, hmm, you still do, but most of the time it is not a photo that is worth the trouble, so nobody worries about it. If it is an image of someone else, that someone else does not own the photo. They may not like it, or say you can not take a photo of them, that is a privacy issue, not a copyright issue. The copyright holder can “copy” or make copies of the photo, others can not. Unless… the copyright holder grants you the right to do so.

When clients come to my studio, Positive Vista Photography & Art, I always ask you to sign a Model Release, this covers the privacy issue, and allows me to display images of you publicly, modify them, sell them. If you don’t want to sign the model release, and I still agree to photograph you, I won’t display your image on my web site, I can’t show them off publicly. If it turns out to be a master piece, I miss the opportunity to show what I have created. I respect your privacy, especially if it is a boudoir photo of you, and won’t show them unless you allow me to. As a photographer, I want people to see the photographs I created, be it a portrait of you or your family, a pet portrait, or even a horse. Ah, but the animals don’t have the rights to privacy like people do, so they do not need to sign Model Releases.

You can get a print, or a digital file of your image from my studio. If you want many prints, use the photo online, and email it around to your family, I offer the digital file of the photo along with a Limited Copyright Release, in which I grant you the limited right to make copies of the photo for the uses you and I agree on, personal, business, or both. So, even if it’s an image of you, and you purchased the digital file or the print, you do not OWN the photo in the sense that I do, and you are only licensed to use it. Strange? It’s kind of like when you buy a book, maybe even a book about you, you really only bought a copy of the book, you do not own the contents of the book, which is owned by the author (copyright does expire eventually, see this US copyright office page)

Are you still confused? I will be happy to explain further if you are. Let me know!