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"Copyright" describes the rights given to creators for their literary and artistic works.

Copyright information on this page is from Professional Photographers of America website. 


"Copyright” describes the rights given to creators for their literary and artistic works.

But we often don’t consider copyright when we look at our family photos or go to get them copied. Even though it is so easy to copy an image—with scanners, photo-quality printers, and copy stations—it is still illegal. 

Things to remember about copyright:

Copyright is a property right.

  • Just because you buy a print does not mean you have purchased the copyright.

  • Professional photographers are the smallest of small copyright holders.

  • Under the Federal Copyright Act of 1976, photographs are protected by copyright from the moment of creation.

  • Photographers have the exclusive right to reproduce their photographs (right to control the making of copies). Copyright

  • Unless you have permission from the photographer, you can’t copy, distribute (no scanning and sending them to others), publicly display (no putting them online), or create derivative works from photographs.

  • A photographer can easily create over 20,000 separate pieces of intellectual property annually.

  • Professional photographers are dependent on their ability to control the reproduction of the photographs they create.

  • It affects their income and the livelihood of their families.

  • Even small levels of infringement—copying a photo without permission—can have a devastating impact on a photographer’s ability to make a living.

Copyright infringements—reproducing photos without permission—can result in civil and criminal penalties.

Put copyright in perspective:

  • 65% of PPA photographers are self-employed photographers relying exclusively on photography as their primary source of income.

  • 47% of member studios rely on reprints as a profitable source of income.

  • How to get legal copies of professional photographs:

  • Contact the photographer/copyright owner. Photographers are happy to discuss options for reproducing photos with you.

  • Check both the front and back of a print for a copyright notice. If it is a school, sports or similar type photo, you may want to contact the institution where the photo was made.

  • Use the Photographer Registry Web site to locate a photographer/copyright owner at, so you can obtain reproductions or permission. With a few pieces of information about a photographer (i.e., they did portraits in Anytown, USA in 200X), a search can be conducted to find the copyright owner.


Copyright Transfers and Usage Licenses


From the Photographers viewpoint (Information from:

Copyright Transfer
A few photographers sell their clients all rights to the images they create. Most commonly, this is done when there is little chance of obtaining income from reprints, or when the cost in both time and money outweighs the possible benefits of maintaining the copyright.


By transferring the copyright to a client, the photographer is effectively selling all rights to the image to the client. This type of transfer allows your client to use or reproduce images however they like, i.e. they are not required them to come to you for any reprints or other reproductions of the images.


You should also be aware that such a transfer means you are waiving all of your rights to the images. Simply stated, if you wish to reproduce the images or to use them for your own business purposes, you must get express written permission for the use of the copyright holder -- the client.


Limited Usage Licenses
Offering your clients a usage license allows you to maintain ownership of your copyright, while granting the client the right to use the images in a specific manner, for a specific purpose or during a specific time frame. Since you maintain the copyright, a usage license gives you the most flexibility in deciding which rights you are selling to the client.


Usage Licenses are particularly useful if a client wants to reproduce the image in a setting or service that you do not currently offer, or a product line that you do not find to be profitable. 


Unlimited Usage License
It is also possible to grant a client an unlimited usage license. This type of license allows the client to use the work in any manner they see fit. However, by retaining the copyright, you are still able to use the images for your own purposes as well.

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