What is a copyright?
A copyright gives its owner the right to copy, distribute, publicly display or create derivative works from the original work. A copyright also gives its owner the right to license those rights to others.
How do I know if my photograph is protected by copyright?
A photograph is copyright protected from the moment it is created. This means that even if you purchase a print or digital file from your photographer, you still need to talk to them about making reproductions from that item.
How long does a copyright last?
The current copyright term is the life of the creator – in this case, the photographer, plus an additional 70 years.
Things to remember about copyright:
- Purchasing a print or digital file from your photographer does not mean you have purchased the copyright.
- Under the Federal Copyright Act of 1976, photographs are protected by copyright from the moment of creation.
- Unless you have permission from the photographer, you can’t copy, distribute (no scanning and sending them to others), publicly display (no putting them online), or create derivative works from photographs.
- Professional photographers are dependent on their ability to control the reproduction of the photographs they create.
- It affects their income and the livelihood of their families.
- Copyright infringements—reproducing photos without permission—can result in civil and criminal penalties.
How to make legal copies of professional photographs:
- Contact the photographer/copyright owner. Photographers are happy to discuss options for reproducing photos with you.
- Check both the front and back of a print for a copyright notice. If it is a school, sports or similar type photo, you may want to contact the institution where the photo was made.
- Use the Photographer Registry Web site to locate a photographer/copyright owner at www.PhotographerRegistry.com, so you can obtain reproductions or permission. With a few pieces of information about a photographer (i.e., they did portraits in Anytown, USA in 200X), a search can be conducted to find the copyright owner.