What is the difference between photo copyrights and print rights? One of the most significant misunderstandings I see couples getting married make is not knowing what rights they have over their wedding photos. In this post, I will explain the difference between copyrights and print rights, but before we roll up our sleeves and dig in, let’s get some disclaimers out of the way.
Please note that I’m not an attorney. The information provided in this post is not intended to constitute legal advice. The photo copyright and print-right information in this post are for general informational purposes only. Readers of this post should contact their attorney to obtain guidance concerning any particular legal matter.
So here we go. Copyrights are legal rights automatically given to the creator of a work (books, photographs, music, paintings, etc.). For example, whenever I click the button on my camera and create a photo, I instantly become the copyright owner. It doesn’t matter what the subject of the photo is. As long as I am the one who clicks the camera button, I own the copyrights.
Here are some of the rights granted to the copyright owner:
The subject of the copyrighted work (couples and guests) does not have these exclusive legal rights. They can’t sell, post, edit, share or print the copyrighted work without the copyright owner’s (photographer) permission. However, no need to worry – these are just the default copyright rules under federal law.
The client also has a right to confidentiality and can negotiate how the photographer uses the photos. Generally, a photographer may give up some legal rights to the copyrighted work in an agreement or a contract.
Couples who hire a wedding photographer should make sure that the contract or agreement addresses the ownership and use of the images to their satisfaction. For example, in our contract, we have specific terms that deal with model release and photo usage rights.
Print rights are one way for a copyright owner to give up some of the legal rights attained by the creator of the copyrighted work. For example, a photographer may issue a print right to the bride to legally print the copyrighted work. Print rights may go beyond printing and may include posting on a social network.
Couples searching for a wedding photographer should be aware that some photographers will falsely mislead couples in thinking that they will get full copyrights to their photos but instead only deliver print rights.
If your potential photographer promises a photo copyright release, ask them if that means you can sell the photos you receive and keep all the profits from the sale. If they genuinely release the copyright to you, they will give up all their rights to your photos. When a photographer releases the copyright to you, you can do whatever you want with your photos without the photographer’s permission.
Now, this does not mean that wedding photographers will not give up their copyrights to your wedding photos. However, after over eight years of photographing weddings, I have only heard of a couple of photographers that release their copyright to their clients for a price.
The bottom line for couples hiring a wedding photographer is to understand that they do not own the copyright to their photos. Couples should make sure that they read and understand the copyright terms in their contract before signing. Don’t take your photographer’s word for it! If the copyright and print rights terms are missing in your agreement, ask for them to be included. Personally, I wouldn’t sign a contract that does not have clearly written copyright and a print right clause that is beneficial to me.
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