Protecting your photos
Sometimes things aren’t as clear-cut as they may seem. We tackle some of the most common questions…
Who owns an image’s copyright if it’s an assistant who pressed the shutter?
Usually in this situation, unless a contract stated otherwise, the copyright would be attributed to the person that made the creative decisions when setting up the shot and selecting the chosen camera settings. This is because the outcome of the image was preconceived and planned before the shutter was pressed on the camera itself. That said, depending on the arrangements of a shoot, it’s possible for multiple people to own the copyright of an image.
Can ideas be copyrighted?
No. The only thing covered by copyright is the expression of an idea. Just because you thought about taking a similar shot to someone else, even if it has the same composition, processing and so on, doesn’t mean that they’ve infringed your rights.
Do I need to get a model to sign a release?
If you intend to sell an image commercially, or think that perhaps one day you might, it’s almost always essential to have signed a model release form for anyone that’s clearly identifiable in the shot. This contract protects you from future lawsuits in which the person featured may claim things such as defamation of character. It will state the terms under which you may choose to exploit the image, and any exceptions that they object to. This agreement is usually made in return for either prints or a payment to the subject for their time.
What is meant by ‘orphan work’?
Images that are classed as ‘orphan works’ are copyright protected, but whose rights holders can’t be traced or contacted. Through the government’s Intellectual Property Office a licence to use these photos commercially or non-commercially can be applied for in return for a fee, following a diligent search for their owner. If you are a rights’ holder and believe your image has been licensed as an orphan work you can stop further licences being granted and claim any fees that have already been paid.
Why does a local lab want me to prove that the images I’m printing are mine?
Photo labs have a legal obligation to ensure that they don’t infringe copyright laws by making prints of protected images. For that reason, many labs will have a disclaimer or waiver for their customers to sign if they suspect that an image may be protected, and these forms must be completed before labs agree to make a copy for you.
With a team creating images together, confusion can arise about who owns an image’s copyright.