You’re on the search for the perfect wedding photographer that will capture the essence of your day that you’ll spend months planning and you’re assuming that you’ll own the photos and can do what you like with them? You could be so wrong. Over the years as a wedding photographer in Dundee, Perth and Angus I’ve learned that UK copyright is often misunderstood. In this blog I’m going to dispel the most common wedding photography copyright myths so you know exactly what to ask potential photographers and can choose the photographer that’s right for you.
Am I allowed to print and share my wedding photos? Everything you need to know about wedding photography copyright and licences
You know that you want a stunning wedding album that you’ll be proud to sit on your coffee table at home. But what about the digital photos? You want to share the story of your day with all your family and friends… how beautiful you look in your dress as you walk down the aisle with your Dad, the look between you and your favourite person in the whole wide world as you see each other for the first time and you’re about to get married! The stunning venue, your dress, your shoes, your flowers and all your loved ones. They all look amazing and you want to share those photos and print them, too.
But wait. What’s this copyright thing you keep on hearing about? Who owns your photos? You or your photographer? Will you be allowed to share your photos and print them? Why on earth wouldn’t you be able to? Well there’s a little thing called “copyright” that might get in your way and I’m going to break down the jargon and help you get to the bottom of it.
Where can I found out about the UK law on photography copyright?
First thing’s first and to be clear, I’m not a solicitor but do have a good knowledge of wedding photography copyright based on my experience as a wedding photographer. What you’ll read in this blog is based on my understanding but if you’re in any doubt at all about copyright, do speak to a solicitor.
The Intellectual Property Office is the official UK government body responsible for intellectual property rights including patents, designs, trade marks and copyright. The legislation on copyright can be found in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 and you can read it here.
What is photography copyright?
For photographers copyright protects their work and stops others from using it without their permission. Copyright protects photographers as it prevents people from copying their work, distributing copies of it (either for free of charge or for sale), renting or lending their work, showing their work in public, adapting their work and putting it on the internet. Photographers get copyright protection automatically and don’t have to apply to pay a fee to have their work protected.
You might see a photographer displaying their work on their website or social media with a copyright symbol © and their name or their brand’s logo, often referred to as a watermark. Photographers use this to show that the photo belongs to them but they don’t need to use watermarks. The photographer will still be protected if they don’t use a watermark on their photos.
Do I own the copyright to my wedding photos? My wedding, my photos, right?
You might assume that because you’re hiring a photographer to photograph your wedding and it’s you that’s in the photos then you should own the photos? Sorry, but that’s not the case and this is the biggest wedding photography copyright myth that I see.
Copyright of a photograph belongs to the person who took the photograph, except for employed photographers where the copyright belongs to his or her employer, unless there’s a contract between them that says otherwise. In practical terms this means that your wedding photographer will own your photos unless they give the copyright to you.
It’s highly unusual for photographers to give the copyright of their photos away. If they choose to give you the copyright they wouldn’t have the right to copy the photos, use them on their websites, use them in their advertising or share them on their social media channels such as Facebook without an agreement being made between you. If they give you the copyright you should expect to pay a much higher price for it.
You shouldn’t worry at all that a photographer owns the copyright of your wedding photographs as it is normal practice and in most cases your photographer will let you print and share your photos. I say in “most cases” because not all will. Read on…
Am I allowed to print my wedding photos and share them on Facebook? Surely that’s a given?
We live in the digital age and many photographers now offer packages that include digital files. These are digital JPEG files that you can download from your photographer’s website or they may be given to you on a USB stick. Usually you’ll be given two copies of the files. There should be a low-resolution copy of the files that are smaller and suitable for emailing and posting on Facebook. There should also be a set of high-resolution files which are bigger and you can use these to make beautiful prints. Try sharing the high-resolution files on Facebook and they’ll look rubbish as Facebook will make them smaller and they could end up looking all blocky and be tiny too.
You shouldn’t assume that a) your photographer will give you digital files or b) that you’ll be allowed to print them and share them. The only way to find out is to ask your photographer.
Many photographers like myself choose to licence the photos to their clients. It’s up to the photographer to choose whether or not they want to to licence their photos and how they do it. A licence is a contractual agreement between the copyright owner (the photographer) and the user (in this case the user is you as the client) and it sets out what the user can do with the photos. You might find this being referred to as a “print release”.
I have the terms of the licence written into my wedding photography contracts and in simple terms I’m happy for my clients to print the photos, copy them, email them and share them on social media platforms. I sell stunning wall-art, framed prints and loose prints too, all from an awarding winning photography supplier right here in Scotland but I do appreciate that my clients want to have a little freedom to make their own prints and share them on social media.
I don’t allow my wedding clients to use them for commercial use which means they can’t be sold for any purpose or used to sell services. Say for example I’ve taken a photo of the venue and the venue staff get in touch with you to ask if they can use it on their website to advertise their wedding services. You wouldn’t have the right to authorise this and would need to refer the venue to me so that we can discuss the terms of a licence for them.
Can my photographer use my wedding photos for advertising?
When a photographer owns the copyright of your wedding photos it doesn’t automatically give them the right to use your wedding photos for their advertising purposes. When photos are commissioned for private and domestic purposes the commissioner has a right that the photos will not be issued to the public without the commissioner’s permission.
What this means for you is that your photographer can only put your wedding photos on their website, Facebook, leaflets, etc with your say so. Your photographer might ask you to sign a “model release form” or it might be included in your wedding photography contract. I always spell out the terms of my contract with potential clients before they sign on the dotted line and always respect my clients’ wishes. Sometimes my clients are happy for their images to be used apart from images of their children.
If you’re in any doubt at all, please discuss this in detail with your photographer before you sign a contract.
What does “copyright free wedding images” mean?
You may see some wedding photographers advertising their services as “copyright free”. To me this terminology is unclear and could lead to a lack of understanding between the photographer and his/her clients. From my professional point of view it could infer that the photographer will sign over ownership of the images to you (which would likely come at a much higher cost as the photographer wouldn’t have any rights to use the images at all) or it could mean that the photographer is granting you a licence to use the images.
This phrase to me indicates a lack of understanding of copyright law on the photographer’s part and I would urge you to discuss this in detail with your photographer to find out what the photographer’s intention is.
So how do I know what I can do with my wedding photos?
At the end of the day the only way you’ll know for sure what you can do with your wedding photos is to ask your photographer. If you specifically want to own the copyright to your wedding photographs (you could be an A-list celebrity and want a really private wedding) then you should expect to pay a lot more for your photography package. For most couples though you really shouldn’t worry that your photographer owns the copyright of your wedding photos. If you want to make sure that you can print and share them your photographer should know where they stand with copyright and be able to answer your queries.
Over to you
I hope this blog helps to ease your mind and gives you a starting point to talk to your wedding photographer.
Are you getting married in Scotland and worried about copyright of your photos? Jump into the comments below and let me know.