How do Copyrights Work?

Many times over the years, we learned that photos have been used without permission, or with permission but without payment or photo credit. Most of these problems could have been avoided by using a simple agreement in writing. Lesson learned: you own your copyright and only you can protect your work.

The following steps should provide protection for most situations:

1) Copyrights are inherent to the photographer, but you can also register your work. However, the copyright notice (Ex: ©Jane Doe 2022) is a friendly reminder that the work is protected by copyright laws. “All rights reserved” is another reminder.

2) Each time a photo or digital image leaves your possession, it should be accompanied by signed and dated permission for use with terms and conditions stated. This is the first step to a contract for use — even if no payment is involved. Keep a copy for your files.

3) NEVER send your original digital files for consideration. Send a low resolution version first.

4) Follow up by phone or email within 5-8 business days to see if your images have been received and if there is interest.

5) For submissions by email, you should know and trust the receiver and believe that terms for an agreement can be made by email.

6) Upon agreement for how an image is to be used, the terms must be set before the use occurs. Example: One photo may be used once for a certain number of dollars. You may even want the benefit of being published without payment in exchange for photo credit. If so, that should be agreed upon in writing up front.

7) Other conditions must also be met. With payment, will you also get photo credit? Will you get a copy of the published work? When is payment made? Upon publication? Within 30 days? It really doesn’t matter as long as you understand and agree to it.

8) Finally, all terms and conditions should be confirmed in writing and signed by both parties.

Sounds like too much work? Not so. Two copies of a simple cover letter can do the job for you. A confirmation email will also do. Simple business forms can do the job for you even better. Go to the IFPO website if you need help!

What happens if you learn your images have been used without your permission? Contact the user. Try to work out an equitable solution. Most everyone understands that copyright infringement can be serious business. In most situations, something fair can be negotiated even after photos have been used.

It’s much easier to take the simple steps to protect your work before it leaves your possession than to try to get control of it later.

Keeping a log of photo packages, digital images etc that are in the hands of potential users helps you track usage, payments, and packages that should be returned. It also often serves as a reminder of where your best work is located and where and when you should submit it elsewhere.

Business forms designed for photographers not only help protect your work, you will learn about copyrights, rights to use, and terms and conditions. Just select the form that seems to match your job and complete it! You should never have to worry about protecting the use of your photos again. Ω