Wedding Phtography and Copyright Release

by on September 19, 2008 · 51 comments

I’m getting married next Spring, and I’m currently negotiating the contract with our photographer. The photography business is weird because even though customers typically pay hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars up front to have photos taken at their weddings, the copyright in the photographs is typically retained by the photographer, and customers have to go hat in hand to the photographer and pay still more money for the privilege of getting copies of their photographs.

This seems absurd to us, and we’ve found a photographer who’s willing to give us our images in high-resolution digital form along with a copyright release to make our own copies of the images. I’m currently researching language for the copyright release, and the advice offered on the subject—mostly by photograhers—strikes me as excessively restrictive. Photographers seem to regard it as extremely important to micro-manage their customers’ use of the images they take, giving them glorified permission slips that only allow the pictures to be used for personal, non-commercial use. There seems to be a consensus that this is important, but I don’t really understand why. It’s not like pictures of my wedding are going to have tremendous commercial value, and allowing us to commercially exploit the photos won’t prevent our photographer from doing so as well (which is fine by me).

Anyway, all of the example copyright releases on the web are unnecessarily restrictive, so what I think I’m going to propose to our photographer is language derived from the creative commons license, like so:

the photographer will provide to the undersigned a worldwide, royalty-free, non-exclusive, perpetual (for the duration of the applicable copyright) license to exercise the rights in all images to: (1) Reproduce the images, to incorporate the images into one or more Collections, and to Reproduce the images as incorporated in the Collections; (2) to create and Reproduce Adaptations; (3) to Distribute and Publicly display the images including as incorporated in Collections; and, (4) to Distribute and Publicly display Adaptations.

If there are any lawyers in the audience, please let me know if you have any suggestions for improvement.

Also next time a lawyer at Creative Commons has some spare cycles, it would be great if he or she could write a guide to the copyright issues around wedding photography (or for-hire photography more generally). Ideally, CC should provide a how-to guide for hiring a photographer in a way that ensures that all photos taken will wind up under the appropriate CC license. This might include explanations of the key legal pitfalls and example language that could be placed directly into the photographer’s contract. It would also be good if it included a page that customers can point their photographers, explaining what a CC license is and why the photographer shouldn’t freak out about having some of his or her photographs released under it. In our digital age, it’s absurd that most people have to ask permission to make copies of pictures of their own wedding.

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