Photography, Ownership, Copyright and Releases

Jake takes a copyrighted photo on the beach

We wanted to discuss copyright, ownership of images, print releases and model releases these are some of the most widely misunderstood subjects among photography customers. Keep in mind that we are not lawyers, and nothing we say should be taken as legal advice. Most of what you see here is paraphrased from the PPA website, a resource for professional photographers. After reading this post we hope that you will walk away with a better understanding of who owns photos and what you and your photographer are each allowed to do with them. Knowing the terminology related to these issues will help you to build trust between you and your photographer.


According to Wikipedia, “Copyright is a legal concept, enacted by most governments, that grants the creator of an original work exclusive rights to its use and distribution, usually for a limited time, with the intention of enabling the creator of intellectual wealth (e.g. the photographer of a photograph or the author of a book) to receive compensation for their work and be able to financially support themselves.”

Once the photographer presses the shutter button, they own the rights to the image that is created. Many people believe that since they paid the photographer to take the picture, or because they are in the photo, that the photo belongs to them but legally that is not the case. The only way that you would own the images taken by your photographer would be if he was working as your employee (for example if you are a newspaper who employs an in house photographer), as opposed to hiring a freelance photographer as a contractor, which is how the vast majority of photographers work.

Think about it this way, if you buy a book, even an e-book, that doesn’t give you the right to make copies of it and sell it, nor does it give you the right to publish all or part of it online without permission or claim any part of it as your original work. The copy of the book is yours, but the contents of the book, the reproducible parts, belong to the author. The same goes for photographers and their images.

This means that if you buy a copy of that photo, even a digital copy, it is illegal for you to print it. Personally, we wouldn’t mind if you shared our images on social media (with credit and back links of course), but you should always check with your photographer just to make sure, because you wouldn’t want to hurt their business or even risk getting in legal trouble. Unless your photographer gives you legal permission to print your work which brings us to the next topic: print releases.

Print Releases

A photographer has the right to make copies of any photograph he owns, but he also has the right to give you the right to do the same. That’s what a print release is for. A standard print release will give you the right to make copies of your photos for personal use. Here is the explanation that comes with our print release (Note: the following is an excerpt from the print release we give our clients when they purchase digital files. It gives a few examples of what you can and cannot do with your digital purchase.)

The images that are being provided to you are licensed copies for any reasonable personal purposes, including but not limited to: printing, copying, emailing, and web publishing. Your license does not include use that results in financial gain, including but not limited to: advertising, stock photography, print sale profits, or resale of any nature. Your purchase of the original files releases Jake and Dannie Studio from any liability due to loss or damage of the images, and also releases Jake and Dannie Studio from any obligation to maintain copies of any digital file, image, or photograph. You hereby grant to Jake and Dannie Studio the right to use and publish images and photographs taken at your photography session to further promote its service, including portfolio, web site, display, advertisement, and editorial use. Jake and Dannie Studio agrees to limit the use of these images and photographs to promotional use only.

Jake and Dannie Studio may revoke this license at any time and for any reason. Jake and Dannie Studio retains all copyrights to the images and derivative works thereof. By using any of these images, you are agreeing to the above terms.

So that covers what you can do with the photos, but you might still wonder what your photographer can do. Well, they can do a lot, but they can’t do everything. They can use the photos for promotional materials, and they can make copies and sell them. But due to privacy laws they can’t do things like let third parties use your images for profit. This means no selling your image as stock photography to be used in ads, no entering your images in contests, and so forth. The only way a photographer is allowed to do that is if you sign a model release.

Model Releases

At Jake and Dannie Studio we don’t sell our clients’ images as stock photography, but sometimes when we see a fit we may want to submit your images into contests or for publication in magazines. That’s why we always have our clients sign model releases just in case. Sometimes we will use a paper contract, but more often it is easier to use an iphone app called Top Model Release. You just have to enter some details like your name and address, then sign the screen with your finger. Florida only requires an oral agreement, but we still require a model release because third parties who might want to publish our images will still mandate them. We only give print releases to clients who sign model releases (and buy the digital files of course).

We hope that this was helpful (or at least comprehensible). We welcome feedback and questions, which we will do our best to respond to. We thought this was important to discuss because we want to create more transparency with our clients. Remember that not all photographers have the same policies so be sure to ask your own photographer how they adhere to these rules before you make use of their work.

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