From Sarah, my talented copyright attorney:
I Take the Photo.... What 2 things happen next:
There are two major events that simultaneously take place when a photographer clicks his/her shutter:
- A copyrightable work is instantly created; AND
- The Photographer is deemed the exclusive owner of the copyright of that photo.
Copyright Ownership = the following...
As the copyright owner of a photograph, you don’t just own the photograph, you also exclusively own:
the right to reproduce the photograph;
the right to distribute copies of the photograph (this could be you selling the photograph or licensing the photograph);
the right to create derivative works based on the photograph; and
the right to display the photograph.
This means, as the copyright owner of a photograph you dictate what can and cannot be done with your photograph. So, if you want to condition the use of your photos with certain requirements (i.e., “sure friend, you can use my photos on your website as long as you tag and credit me”) or (i.e., “sure friend, you can post my photo on instagram as long as you post the lyrics to a Cardi B song or Wind Beneath My Wings as the comment”) the users of the photograph are obligated to comply.
Bottom line: The copyright owner makes the rules and anyone who wants to use the photo needs to play nice in the theoretical sandbox.
But, I WANT the Photo
Here’s the thing, copyright ownership belongs to the photographer the moment they click the shutter UNLESS/UNTIL another arrangement is entered into with the photographer. If you want to be the copyright owner of a photograph, all you have to do is ASK (preferably in an email or by way of contract). Copyrights are transferable when negotiated and upon a case by case basis.
The Photo Captures My Intellectual Property, Does That Make Me own the photo (spoiler alert, NO)
This is my least favorite comment to deal with as an attorney, it goes something like this, “this photograph captures my intellectual property as an interior designer or an architect, so therefore I am the owner of the photograph.” Ummm, FALSE. That's not how copyright works and this typically rears its ugly head when egos get involved.
WHAT IF I WANT TO COPY THE PHOTO:
The law protects the original works of art and authorship of photos, books, music, manuscripts, paintings.... ect. Such copying is called copyright infringement.
So those are a few of the most basic copyright principles explored in the context of photographs. I am sure you all found that to be riveting!
The final takeaway: if you understand how photo copyright generally works, you can navigate your professional relationships to get exactly what you want out of a photography session. The client/ photographer relationship can be very mutually BENEFICIAl when all expectations are discussed early on in the relationship.
*Nothing contained above is legal advice, you should always consult a lawyer if you have any legal queries.*