Your photographer has agreed to sell you a computer disc (CD) filled with your digital images. So, exactly what is it that you own? Without a written agreement that gives you certain rights, not much. Copyright law is confusing, and many attorneys make a comfortable living specializing in this area of law. What does copyright law mean for the bride who is seeking a photographer for her wedding, a mother looking for a wall portrait for her family room, or a businessman needing a headshot for a website?
Photo labs are becoming increasingly more aware of copyright law and are refusing to print images that appear to have been professionally produced. Copyright law states that ownership of the copyright belongs to the “author” of the image. This means either the photographer who took the photo or the photo studio, if the photographer is an employee of the studio. The owner’s rights include making copies, preparing other works based on the original image, distributing copies of the work, and publicly displaying the work. The law protects these rights, and the penalties for violations extend to customers and photo labs. Thus, more and more labs are requiring written notice from the photographer to reproduce the photos. They are not relying on the word of the customer.
Websites are also becoming more familiar with the ramifications of copyright infringement. As such, many websites require you acknowledge that the content you post is not third-party intellectual property. Most webmasters will automatically remove contested content. This means that those wedding images that you intended to share with family and friends could disappear from Facebook or other social networking sites without you ever being notified and, worse yet, your account could be deactivated.
Professional photographers are working hard to educate and protect their clients. Educated consumers need to ask their photographer for a copy of the agreement that the photographer provides with his or her digital images. Clients also need to thoroughly understand the limitations and ramifications of those agreements before signing a contract. Otherwise, they may find themselves slinking around in the dark recesses of a smoky, dimly lit backroom peering at their photo images on a flickering computer monitor.