Where do we stand on copyright and licensing?

You wake up, you turn off the alarm on your smartphone and check Facebook for new posts, Twitter for gossip and news and Instagram to see what the world looked like whilst you slept.

By the time you leave the house you have probably done the same routine 3 or 4 times. You’ve probably commented on a few status updates, liked a few photos of your friends breakfasts, retweeted a witty statement about the current prime minister.

Then you’re out in the real world. The real world with real people, social norms that are more complicated than life online. The online world is lawless, carefree, lighthearted and fun. In the real world there are laws and police and signs telling what to do and what not to do.

In the real world you cannot walk into an art gallery with a camera, photograph the art works and print the photographs onto canvases for your home. That would be stealing.

Online you can search Google images or a website, right-click and save an image before adjusting the image or making your own meme. That doesn’t feel like stealing, but it is.

So what is the law on copyright?

I often get asked about ‘copyright’ and who owns an image. “It’s a photo of me, therefore it’s my image” is one of the greatest misconceptions. Copyright law for photographs is the same as that for paintings, drawings or music. Copyright law and copyright originated in the UK from a concept of common law; the Statute of Anne 1709. It became statutory with the passing of the Copyright Act 1911. The current act is the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988

This means that if a painter was to paint your portrait in oils then the artwork’s copyright would still belong to the artist, even though his work looks like you. The same is true for photographs. UK and US law states that copyright always sits with the artist, unless sold or the artwork was created as part of terms of employment, which doesn’t include one off wedding photography. Breaking this law could result in an infringement suit and becomes a criminal matter.

But this is the 21st century. I have used the internet every day for 17 years and have probably bent the rules on occasion. I have mp3 files that came off Napster pre-2001 when it went legit. I have saved images from websites and taken screenshots of photographs that I didn’t take. It just seems too easy to break the law sometimes.

Until recently wedding photographers didn’t make any money from turning up and taking photos at your wedding. They made the real money if you actually liked the photographs and chose to buy prints and albums and frames. They sold you paper. Those days are gone for wedding photographers. Nowadays people want their photos digitally so they can share them with their friends and family around the world. They want a professional to create the perfect profile photo and facebook banner.

Many wedding photographers are struggling to come to terms with this brave new world. I don’t think that it needs to be all that complicated or difficult.

There’s a simple way around this; Image licensing

I explain my terms to all of my clients. A typical wedding package will deliver a minimum of 400 hi-resolution JPEG images that have been fully and professionally edited. I will licence them to reproduce their images in any way that they like. I will actively help them in doing that. This doesn’t mean that I am signing over the Copyright of my work though. What I don’t allow is my wedding clients (I have different licensing terms for my commercial clients) to be able to sell their photographs to magazines, stock photography sites or financially profit from them in any way. Most of my clients would never wish to do that with their images anyway.

In short, my clients can have the high-resolution images to view, print, build their own albums, share online, use of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram but on two conditions;

  1. The images are not adjusted in any way. This means they’re not edited, recoloured, cropped or poked around with. If clients want the images cropped for a profile pic, I will provide this free of charge.
  2. Appropriate credits are always given whenever the images are publically displayed. I would appreciate a link to my Facebook page if the image is shared there, my twitter profile mentioned if tweeted or website listed elsewhere.

These are the terms that I would expect from my photographer, being a digital native and not interested in owning paper versions of my wedding images. I don’t think it’s too much to ask for a simple credit in return for the creation of  artwork that is so good you want to share it.

“That’s quite straightforward. But what can’t I do with my digital images?”

Even the most liberal of photographers can get p****d off when these lines are inadvertently crossed.

The top three ways to p*** off you photographer would be to;

  1. Screenshot their website and crop the photo, including just the bit you like.
  2. Not ask or investigate the licensing terms you have agreed before sharing your digital files online
  3. Not attributing a photograph you have shared online with an appropriate credit to the artist

We can all get what we want and still be friends 😀

I am using many years of learning, experience and a great deal of investment to try to support my growing family with my photography business. I love creating images for people that they will cherish for years to come. It is always flattering when someone wants to show off one of your images. I am lucky that I become friends with all of my clients after building a close relationship photographing them.

There is nothing better than a request from a client to use of of your images as part of their online profiles or wanting to share the whole set with the world. All of my clients will vouch for me that I always deliver exactly what they want and have extremely flexible terms and arrangements, and all credit me in return. It’s all part of my strategy to build a business on referral and not hard sell.

Below is a link to the photograph licensing guide I send over to all of my clients. I think it’s pretty fair, although these things are always open to suggestions and improvements;

Owen Mathias Photography Image Licensing Terms (pdf 91kb)

If you have any questions about this issue or would like me to email you my simple to following licensing guide to look over, just email me at hello@owenmathias.com or fill out the form below;




Interesting Links

UK Copyright Service Guide to Copyright Law (pdf)