Copyright Information for Photographers and Filmmakers.


copyright symbol in black with shadow on white As a creator of original material you instantly become the owner of intellectual property known as copyright. It's therefore important to understand what that means for you. There's a lot to consider financially because you can offer your work for the purposes of making money to others and inevitably where there's money there are legal issues too. Even when a copyright owner dies there are laws covering ownership because that copyright can be inherited.

If you create images for the purposes of making money you must understand how copyright functions in order to ensure you get exactly what you want from your work so lets take a look at the detail of that precious ownership.

What is Copyright?

Copyright is the word used to describe the legal ownership granted by law to the creator of an original work such as a photograph, book, software, painting or film to name but a few examples. The creator owns the copyright and has the legal right to exploit the copyrighted material for a certain amount of time.

The letter 'c' in a circle is the symbol denoting copyright and recognised throughout the World.

If you look to the bottom of the page you will see that this website and it's contents are protected by copyright. The symbol with the year denotes copyright began in 2015. Copyright protection only lasts for a certain amount of time and the year indicates the start of the exclusive ownership. Look at almost any created work such as a book, film, newspaper, etc and you will see this symbol, the year and the owner of the copyright. Works of art are protected by copyright even though they don't display the symbol like you see it here.

How copyright is dealt with is defined in international law such as the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works but also varies from country to country. For instance in the UK as soon as you take a photograph copyright is assigned whereas in the USA, although copyright is automatically assigned, an additional registration process is required should you wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement of a U.S. work. Many artists in the USA therefore register as a matter of course as this can work in the creator's favour if a legal action is needed.

As copyright law varies greatly throughout the World you are advised to research and familiarise yourself with your own country's laws as an article such as this can only describe copyright at a very general level. Copyright can be complicated so much so that you can hire specialist copyright lawyers and solicitors.

It is very important to follow developments in copyright law as they are continually being reviewed and at times changed. These laws have come under close scrutiny as the digital age affects how people use and easily abuse copyrighted works. Music, films and books are all open to pirating and rely on the laws of copyright to provide protection. Laws in the UK have been changed to reflect this new era of access to copyrighted material. However the changes have caused serious concern amongst many copyright holders as it offers a way of reproducing copyrighted material without agreement from the copyright holder if they cannot be found. Here's some more information about this issue via

It's All Yours.

You might be a painter, an author, a filmmaker, software designer, or photographer. All very different creative mediums but sharing one common legal entity: Copyright. If you make something that hasn't been made before, that hasn't been copied from somebody else then you instantly become the owner of a copyright. 'You' can be an individual, business or organisation it doesn't matter which, only that each can possess copyright and are legally allowed to make money from it. As a creator of original work it is important that you understand how you are affected by these laws and what your rights are to be able to exploit the ownership of copyright and also ensure that others do not infringe on your rights by unlawfully using your work.

The right to ownership of copyright in the UK lasts for the lifetime of the creator plus an additional 70 years following the death of the creator after which the rights can be passed on via a will. This article by DACS in the UK describes how those rights are passed on.

How Do I Make Money From My Copyright?

You can do this in a couple of ways (and if there are any more I don't know about them so apologies if I've missed one!) the first of which is by far and away the most popular, you sell a licence to others for them to use your work. A licence means they have access to the work restricted by an agreed framework of criteria such as for how long or where it can be used and once the agreement has expired the work can no longer be used unless another licence is purchased. Licencing is the cornerstone of making money within the photography industry and two licence types rule the roost: Rights-Managed and Royalty-Free.
Related article: This article about licencing explains things in more detail.

As copyright belongs to you as an asset this means you can sell it to someone else. Another person or entity can pay you money to buy your copyright. After you sell the work you can no longer licence it or exploit it for financial gain. Only the new copyright owner has those rights. You however will always be the creator of it.
It would be wise to think long and hard about selling copyright to your work, with the important question being will this one-time payment exceed what I can make from this work by retaining copyright and licencing its use? Only you can answer that question!

If you choose to submit your images to a stock library, part of the terms and conditions of you becoming a contributor will be legally confirming you are the copyright owner of the images you are about to submit and that you agree the library has the right to issue licences for the use of that work on your behalf. When looking to make money from your work you will constantly encounter copyright because of it's legal power therefore it's important to understand the rational behind those terms and conditions before you agree to them.

Copyright Infringement

When someone takes your copyright-protected work and uses it without your permission this is known as copyright infringement. For photographers, protecting their material against copyright abuse is a big issue especially where work shown on the Internet is concerned. As the web is a visual medium a photograph fits perfectly with words to enhance an article or simply for the purposes of looking at the subject of the photograph on it's own so there are millions of images all over the web. Each and every one will have a copyright owner, many of which would like to exploit that ownership for payment. The web makes it very easy to copy a picture and use it without the copyright owner's permission. Some will do this without knowing they are violating law whilst others will intentionally do so with complete disregard for the rights of the owner.

There are online tools available provided by Google Images and Tineye for finding copies of photographs so this is a good start to see if and where your work has been used without permission. Of course you have to be careful as someone may have correctly licenced your images for use on the Internet so some research has to be done before you can consider any use a violation.

Copyright infringement can also be about taking your image and using the subject, concept and ideas to create another new work. This is a very complex situation as it's difficult to define what exactly is an infringement when ideas have been reapplied in another's work. Some consider it acceptable to take a picture shot by someone else and modify it sufficiently that it is considered a new work but this is a huge grey area for understanding how the law works around this issue.

There are companies who will search the web looking for violations of intellectual property copyright in order to bring a legal case against the infringer. Law firms offer specialist services to copyright owners in seeking compensation from infringers. Some stock agencies do their own research and persue violaters which in one case was done by one company on such a grand scale that some people discovered to be in violation actually thought it was a scam. As you can imagine there are many images being used today that have been used illegally so there's almost an unending supply of work for specialist companies and law firms to chase.

If you wish to have content removed from the web because it's use contravenes your copyright, Google have a DCMA process for having it removed from their search results. DMCA stands for Digital Millennium Copyright Act. You may have to contact website owners to request images are removed from their sites. Specialist advice is recommended as this can become a legal issue should initial requests be ignored.


This information is for guidance only. You are advised to seek the advice of a lawyer or solicitor about issues of copyright.

Further Reading.

Comments Guidelines

Home Legal Privacy

2015 Peter Hatter Photography Ltd. All rights reserved.