You’ve just laid eyes on your new family photos and you’re absolutely thrilled with them! They turned out beautifully and captured each family member’s best side. Naturally, you’re excited to show them off and share them with as many people as possible.
What many people don’t realize, though, is that there are limits to how you can and cannot use your photos. You might expect that if you pay a photographer to take your photo, you have bought the rights to use those photos however you choose, but that actually isn’t how US copyright law works.
To help you understand how you can safely and legally enjoy your photos, I’ve put together this simple guide on the essentials.
The Basics of US Copyright Law: Who Owns Your Professional Portraits
The long and short of it is that a photo, just like a painting, a written poem, or any other type of creative work, is automatically copyrighted to the person who created it. In the case of photography, the creator is the photographer, so your photographer automatically owns all rights to those photos.
Because US copyright law works this way, you can only use the photos of you in ways that your photographer gives you written permission to use them. This is why, when you purchase digital files from your photographer and you want to get prints from a print shop, the print shop should ask for a release form from the photographer.
What Ways Can I Use (and Not Use) My Professional Photos?
Copyright laws seem intimidating to many people but in this case, they’re actually fairly simple: you can use your photos in ways that your photographer gives you written permission to, and only in those ways. Most photographers spell out the approved uses very clearly in their contract, so this should be easy to find. If you have questions, you can always send a quick email to your photographer to ask and we’ll be happy to help. If you didn’t sign a contract, there are no “assumed” ways you can use your photos, so you’ll need to get written permission for any prints, social media, or other uses.
In general, your photographer created your portraits for you to enjoy and treasure. That’s the purpose they were meant for and that’s how you’re permitted to use them.
In most cases, these are safe ways to use your photos:
Keep in mind that this can vary, though, so always check the contract you signed.
By contrast, these are some uses that are typically not permitted for your professional photos:
If you want to do any of those things, you will need written permission from your photographer.
Giving Credit for a Photo
Another common misconception about photography copyright is that you can use photos however you want if you give credit to the photographer. This is actually a myth. In some cases, your photographer might give you permission to use your photos in a certain way (such as sharing them on social media) if you credit them, but crediting a photographer does not take the place of written permission.
Using and Enjoying Your Professional Photos
At the end of the day, every photographer wants you to enjoy the photos we take of you and your family. That’s why we’re here! The guidelines above can help you enjoy those photos in legal and respectful ways that serve everyone’s needs.
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