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I'm a Cairns, far north Queensland, Australia professional photographer specialising in travel, editorial and environmental portraiture.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Why you need to keep the copyright in your photos.

This image was part of a series shot on assignment for Weldon Owen Publishing. It was used to illustrate a school book on festivals around the world - I was in charge of the Japan book.

I chose the festival, lined up the models (my wife's sister's family!) and organised the day of the shoot.

Not that they at any time had asked for it, but if I had given away the copyright for all the photographs I took I wouldn't be able to show this one to you. It wouldn't be mine any more. I could actually get sued for showing it to you, or using it in my portfolio to show potential clients the kind of work I do.

If I had given away the copyright my assigning client would then own all the rights to that picture, meaning that they could then license it as stock and make a profit off of it and wouldn't have to pay me a cent.

As it is they have used it in another couple of books and I, of course, get paid every time it gets used. I have licensed it to accompany articles on Japan written both by myself and other writers. It's even been used in an ad for a major Japanese travel agency (I needed signed model releases for that one).

All in all my income from stock sales of this image have far outstripped the original assignment fee. And none of that would have been possible if I had relinquished my copyright.

I saw an ad for a wedding photographer the other day boasting about the fact that he gives the copyright to the couple. Does he realise that he can no longer use those pictures in his own portfolio? Does he know that he could get sued for putting it on his website? Methinks if the couples he photographs knew this and they were in any way dodgy they could leverage this legal loophole.

Chances are that your clients have no intention of selling your photographs to third parties. But if they're a major publishing house they might think about using it in others of their publications. They might think they need copyright to prevent you licensing it to their competitors. They might think that if they own the copyright it will save them having to come back to you to pay for extra rights that they might need down the track.

These are all legitimate concerns but you can argue against any of them and reassure your clients that they will get what they need while protecting your own business interests. Have something in your contract that promises you won't license the images to competitors. Put in your contract what you will charge them for any possible future licenses that will go beyond the initial contract. Explain to them that there's no point in paying extra money for usages they may never need. Show them how it's cheaper to just pay for what they need now.

The photographer-client relationship should be a collaboration. We provide great photographs at a price the client can afford with a license attached that they need. This isn't necessarily always what they want but such is life - I want a new Ferrari but I'm sure the dealer isn't going to give me one for cheap just because I want it. Work with your clients and if they're interested in working with you and willing to see your side of the coin as well as their own then I know you can see a way beyond the 'we have to own it' argument.

And remember that as soon as you give your copyright away you have no rights whatsoever to show those pictures anywhere in your own portfolio or website. Think about that one for a minute. I can't imagine any client wanting to put that kind of a restriction on their photographer, or any photographer who would knowingly admit to those conditions. But that's what you're doing every time you agree to hand over your copyright.

Oh and if you needed any more persuasion, a recent survey of professional photographers in the UK showed that photographers who kept their copyrights made an average 33% more income than those who gave it away! Now doesn't that appeal to your hip pocket?

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