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Copyright question

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by triangular, May 31, 2007.

  1. Hello all. I read somewhere that copyrights of graphics always belong to the creator, unless a written agreement specifically transfers those copyrights to a new owner. In other words, just because you pay for graphic content does not mean you own an exclusive copyright to do whatever you want with the end product.

    I'm currently working as a photographer for an export company, shooting products for a catalog. It's not very exciting but I really like some of the shots and think I might be able to use them elsewhere or at least sell some of them as wall art. My employer is using the shots to sell these products on a web site, and some of the shots will be printed in a catalog for a summer mailing. This is the only use ever discussed, nothing has been signed, and the word "copyright" has never been mentioned in any conversation.

    So my question is, do I still own the future rights to use all my shots in whatever way I please, including commercial, if I have not signed over any copyrights to my employer?

    If I'm paid to shoot products that his company sells in catalogs and on web sites, I suppose that is an implied right of use that he is paying me for, but we have never signed any statement of work or any agreement of useage rights. If this means I still retain full ownership over the images I shoot, I'd prefer to keep it that way and not mention it, because he will probably want full owership of all images if he thinks he doesn't already have it. But the truth is he just isn't paying me enough for that.

    So what is the situation I'm in at this point, in regards to ownership and rights of my images under his employment?

  2. BigPixel

    BigPixel Guest

    generally if you're paid to shot for a company as an employee, the company owns the rights to images. Ask them.
  3. Rights

    Well I don't think they will be able to tell me. This would be a question about copyright law, there shouldn't be anything general about it. There are so many types of copyright one may have or pay for. Example one-time use, exclusive rights, regional use, limited markets, etc. We have nothing written or agreed upon.
  4. BigPixel

    BigPixel Guest

    That's the problem then, you have nothing agreed upon.

    Are you receiving a salary from the company as an employee? Or are you on a contract as a self employed individual? If on salary (or hourly wage) the work you perform for your employer is theirs. If you're supplying work as an independent sub-contracted individual the work is yours and you could negotiate usage terms. You need to hammer out the terms you want in advance. Attempting to negotiate terms after you've started is foolish and non-professional. You should have investigated all this before you got into the arrangement.
  5. dsp921


    May 16, 2006
    Mike's right, if you're an employee of theirs, the shots are theirs and you would need their permission to resell them. Another potential problem arises if any of the products you shoot are trademarked. You couldn't sell those without permission of the trademark holder if so. If you want specific answers you should talk to a good IP lawyer in your area.
  6. You haven't confirmed in what capacity you were working "for" them - as an employee or as a contractor. If you were hired just for this shoot, your first mistake is pressing the shutter button without having a full contract signed, stating usage, future rights, present rights, etc. Even if I do a shoot (wedding) for free, it is fully understand as to who can do what with the pictures before I even start. This is not something you should be asking AFTER you've started the project - this is where lawsuits breed.
  7. dsp921


    May 16, 2006
    He refers to them as "my employer" and not "my client". Sounds like he's an employee.
  8. If you are an employee of the catalog company, they own the copyright. If you are being paid as an outside contractor, you own the copyright unless a signed agreement specifies that they own it.

    Your use of the photographs may be limited depending on what is in them. Anything in the images that is trademarked cannot be reproduced without permission of the trademark owner. Trademark laws are similar to copyright laws.

    If you are an outside contractor, you need a written agreement that specifies how you are permitting them to use your photographs, and or how long. Don't do any more work for them until you have a written agreement.
  9. eng45ine


    May 11, 2005
    Chicago, IL
    Absolutely agreed, if you are an employee and shooting images for their use under their direction, they own the rights to the images.:smile:
  10. Laws vary from country to country.
    Here in NZ the image is property of the commissioner of the photo unless otherwise stated.
    This is why photographers have terms and conditions.
    You should join ASMP or other professional photo organizations, to safeguard your rights and potential future earnings.
    This thread will set you in the right direction.
    Good Luck.:wink:
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 15, 2017
  11. It may not be as simple as all that. I talked with a photographer who worked for National Geographic. There was a dust up between some photographers and NG over who owned photos. NG said they were theirs, the photogs said otherwise. I don't remember how it all played out but I think it got pretty messy. It sounds like it's one of the reasons many former staff photogs now only freelance for NG.
  12. Well that's what I've heard elsewhere. But let me explain a few things that some of you brought to attention.

    First of all, I'm not an employee but rather I've been hired basically on a contract basis, for the purpose of a single summer catalog and web site shoot. Soon this job will be over, when the last of the products and catalog studio sets have been shot.

    The whole thing was put together rather loosely. There is no contract written or signed, just the understanding that I am being paid on a temporary basis to shoot products which may appear on a web site and/or printed in a catalog for the purposes of generating sales for those products.

    This is not happening in America, but in an Asian country that often "struggles" with IP issues and copyright law. However its an American company with American owners, I'm American, the catalog is being sent to American homes and the bulk of the customers are all American. I think US copyright law is respected among all countries which recognize IP issues, so I should be under the same jurisdiction here.

    As a contractor for a single project, I simply want to retain the ability to sell or promote any of these same images for myself in the future. I also don't care how my client uses the images to sell their products, but I wouldn't want them to make further profit off of my photography itself. Such as selling them as art prints, or reselling the rights to a 3rd company, or showing up on post cards, etc. Those are the rights I wish to keep for myself and that has nothing to do with selling products, being the only reason I was hired to take the shots in the first place.

    So as it stands now, and being that I am a contractor for a single project shoot for one stated purpose only, would I not by default retain those rights as the photographer and creator of those images?
  13. BigPixel

    BigPixel Guest

    not unless you have arranged for such in a contract. There is no default position here. Either you have a signed contract stating usage rights and ownership or you don't, especially in governing market outside the United States. I would suggest you speak with an attorney.

    I feel sorry for you in that it looks as if you've gotten yourself into a situation where you're looking back over your shoulder after the fact. I would suggest using this experience as a learning curve and to then apply what you've learned in future negotiations for image rights issues on future projects.
  14. dsp921


    May 16, 2006
    In light of the new facts, you need to discuss this with your client. They might not have a problem with you reselling. On the other hand they may consider this a "work for hire" deal and want the copyrights. Then you have a mess. I don't know what you can do about this after the fact. If your client has issues with you reselling, then you have problems. You can ask a lawyer but without any written contract I doubt there is much that can be done. It probably won't be worth the trouble. Maybe you just move on and get things in writing next time. Kind of painful, but a good learning experience.
    Of course the whole thing about this being in Asia confuses things even more. Hopefully, you can get this sorted out without too much trouble.
  15. biggstr6


    Apr 26, 2005
    Why not play dumb at this point ,and when the last shoot is done and you submit your bill ,have the rights stated in the bill and have them sign it and each keep a copy, just act like this is what you expected all along.

    If they question it, without getting upset ,act alittle shocked and explain your side.

    Who knows may not even become a issue . If there is disagreement at that point I guess youd need to talk to a lawyer.
  16. Well, from what you're saying, I'm wondering why is everything weighted in favor of the client? Without a contract signed by either of us, aren't we both in equal positions then?
  17. dsp921


    May 16, 2006
    That's where the lawyer can answer your questions. I don't know that it's weighted to the client, but you did shoot for them and give them the images, so certain rights were implied. It's a very tricky position to be in, trying to work out terms after the job was done. Find a good IP lawyer and see what their opinion is.
  18. If I can offer my $38.17 It sounds like you were hired as a sallaried employee for a short term basis. You are getting paid for a period of time. ie on a weekly, monthly or what ever basis. Not for the work you produce or for "Studio time" ie for say 185 images at so much an image or hourly studio production. So on that basis the images would belong to your employer as the work you produce was produced as a course of your employment for which he hired you. There was/is no contract to produce X amount of images or to fullfill a project to a specific end with a specific quantity of work to an acomplished set out goal.

    I remember the Oklahoma bombing there was a photographer that shot the famous image of a fire fighter carrying a child. It was picked up and went world wide by just about every news agency. T shirts were made out of it and everything. Well there was a huge disagreement about who owned the rights - ergo royalties to the image. The photog that shot it or his employer who say he was "on the clock" and there for belonged to the employer. Even tho he was not working for his employer as a photographer. If I remember correctly it got nasty and I think they sided with the photog as it was outside the parameters of his course of employment.
  19. The answer is in the first sentance.

    Your choice of expression and words comes over more in hope than in conviction and unless you are very lucky you will find that the pictures you have taken belong to your client. You should have specified at the very beginning that YOU retained the copyright of the pictures and then been very specific as to how your client was to use them. This could well be a hard fact to swallow but you will have learnt one of the fundemental lessons of becoming a freelance photographer.

    Bob F. ( Freelance Natural History Photographer.)
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