Let us discuss some of the most critical legal issues for your success as a professional photographer.
The photographer owns the copyright to his images from the moment of creation, according to the 1976 Copyright Act. Once you click the shutter, you are the creator and copyright holder, no registration is required. This means that if unauthorized image use occurs (and does happen frequently), you may be entitled to compensation.
However, if your pictures are not registered and someone uses them without permission, the only fee you can charge is the usage fee. If the image is seriously violated and you believe you are entitled to additional compensation, including attorneys’ fees, you will not be able to obtain punitive damages without a copyright registration. Therefore, it is in your best interest to register your images for copyright protection.
Visit the Library of Congress Copyright Office for instructions and guidelines on how to claim legal copyright for your images.
Although your work is copyrighted as soon as it is created, please use the copyright notice (i.e. © 2019 Jason R. Rich. All rights reserved. ) Maybe important because it informs the public that the work is copyrighted, identifies the copyright owner, and displays the year of first publication.
Dealing with copyright infringement remains a big problem for many professional photographers, especially when it comes to displaying copyrighted images online. Even if you don’t mind other website owners using your images, they should inform readers/viewers who the photographer is (provide the source of the photo) and possibly provide a link to your website.
Many photographers add watermarks to images to establish ownership. This can easily be done using a photo editing application (like Photoshop) or an application that specifically adds watermarks to digital images (like Photopolish).
Most photographers also upload images at a resolution much lower than the resolution at the time of shooting. This ensures that if someone tries to use the image, the image quality will be poor and grainy. It is always a good idea to add metadata to your digital image files to identify you as the photographer and copyright holder of the image.
When do you need a permit?
Technically speaking, you can photograph anyone or anything you want on public property, as long as it is being used for editorial purposes and you are informing people about something that involves the public interest. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, such as private events.
There can also be potential problems when shooting other people or private property. In some public areas, such as parks or beaches, professional photographers cannot shoot unless they get permission. Do your research before you start shooting outdoors. And make sure you get the proper permission from anyone you are shooting to make it protected by law.
Obtaining in writing
Obtaining any agreement or license in writing is good business practice. It doesn’t have to be complicated, and terms and conditions may vary from project to project, but the following topics should always be considered:
- Assignment. Please elaborate on the components of the project. Will these edited pictures be used for publications, commercial tasks to promote customers’ products or services, or for weddings and other events?
- Duration. The contract must state the exact date for this transfer.
- Location. Is the location predetermined or do you have to search for a suitable site? If the latter, you will need to charge the customer for the extra time involved.
- Additional equipment, accessories or models. Many shootings require the use of professional models or special accessories and equipment. If you are responsible for obtaining them, you must charge the customer separately.
- Copyright/Property. Unless it is a commissioned work task, as long as you grant the client limited use rights, you will usually retain the rights to your images.
- Rate. Please be sure to state the payment amount and estimated payment time (for example, after receipt of the invoice or 30 days after receipt) and whether there will be a late payment penalty.
- Deposits. Depending on the scope of the project, an advance payment of 25% to 50% may be required. Specify in the contract which parts are not refundable and when the ending balance will expire.
- Travel expenses. The manager will bear all expenses incurred during the commissioning process, including hotels, car rentals, airline tickets, mileage, equipment, etc. If you expect significant expenses, you can ask the client to pay in advance or obtain a deposit for estimated expenses. You may also want to negotiate a daily allowance to cover miscellaneous expenses, such as meals.
- Creative judgment. Typically, the authorized customer representative will answer questions at the shooting location and provide guidance on the required images. If not, add a clause to the contract stating that the customer must accept your criteria when creating the image.
- End date. Explain when the customer can get the desired image.
- Reordering/assignment change. Specify the additional costs that will be incurred if you need to reschedule or change the allocation. Include all costs associated with the change.
- Canceled. Clearly state the customer’s responsibilities when canceling. Will all or part of the deposit be kept? How many days can a customer send a cancellation notice before charging additional fees? Generally, the closer to the scheduled date, the higher the fine. Don’t forget to include the expenses incurred.
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