Guide to Photographers’ and Journalists’ Rights

First, photographers are considered to be the artists (authors) of their work just the same as journalists. Based on that premise, protecting the rights of your work are basically the same for both. This guide is a quick easy reference to photographers’ rights but also applies to journalists.

You will learn how to use simple forms and contracts to reach an agreement with your clients.  You will learn to protect your rights in every situation as well as the rights of your client.  You will find the answers to age old questions about publishing rights, model releases, copyrights and many other puzzling situations which have cost photographers business and driven them to despair over the years.

What are works for hire?

How to negotiate rights

How to protect your rights

Content of a good contract?


The copyright law

How to register a copyright

How to copyright works in a series

What is copyright protection?

Tips on rights

What are photographers’ rights?

Many photographers believe that to be able to sell a photograph would be the fulfillment of their fondest dreams.  That could certainly be true.  One of the highest compliments that can be paid to a photographer is that his work sells.


The first consideration in selling a photograph is to make sure who really owns the rights.  Often without question the photographer owns the rights.  He can authorize the use of the photograph for publication or reproduction and sell prints as often as he wishes.


There are several terms related to rights that are accepted in the photographic industry.  It is important to understand the rights that are being sold and what each term means.

One time rights – The buyer has the right to use the picture one time for a specific purpose.

First time rights – Applies to those buyers wishing to be the first publication to publish a particular picture one time.

Serial rights – Magazines and newspapers buy these rights to ensure that their publication will be the only periodical to publish the photo.  Serial rights usually do not prohibit the sale of the same photo to other non-periodical users.

Exclusive rights – The buyer has exclusive use of a particular photograph for a specific period of time.  It is not unusual for this period to be one to two years.  At the end of the period, the photographer regains all rights to the picture.  Calendar companies usually ask for exclusive rights.

Non-exclusive rights – The buyer pays a fee for a particular photograph for a specific period of time, maybe one to two years.  The buyer may or may not have a specific plan for using the photograph but will have the right to use it if needed.  This is sometimes referred to as an option to use.  This is usually good for the photographer because he retains the right to negotiate the use of the same photograph with other buyers within that same period.

First edition rights – The rights to a photograph are sold for the first printing only of a book etc. It cannot be used for a second printing without further negotiation.

Related rights – The most common use for related purposes is for advertising.  The cover of a book or magazine may need to appear in an ad, which sells the book or magazine.

All rights – All rights to a work are permanently sold to the buyer.  This should be avoided unless you are paid a great deal or if the use will benefit you substantially.  The exception might be a picture that might soon become outdated and have no value.  Then it might be wise to relinquish your rights and collect the money.

The photographer reserves the right to approve the general use of a photograph each time it is sold to a new buyer unless all rights have been sold.  You must also take into consideration the rights you are selling when you price your work.