I sometimes get asked about who owns photographs – the photographer or the client? Under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 all rights are owned by the person who created the image, ie the photographer, even when that image has been commissioned by a client.
Copyright exists by default as soon as an image is created. It doesn’t need to be registered or formalised, nor is it affected by whether or not money changes hands. There is also no requirement to label or identify the copyright in an image.
A photographer will typically grant a licence to the client for use of the images. This can often be an informal arrangement that allows more or less free use or defined by a specific form of words that sets out the precise uses that the photo can be put to. The uses (or activities as they’re sometimes known) that a copyright holder controls can include printing, copying, publication (commercial or otherwise) and display.
In practice, little of this has any impact on my own customers. I am happy for people to copy and distribute their images freely, asking only that I receive credit for my work. However, if the images are resold then there may be financial implications beyond the initial charge and licensing conditions may kick in.
None of the above guidance overrides any specific licensing terms agree with a client. For more information about copyright you can visit the government’s Intellectual Property Office website. Alternatively, you can read about some of the myths and misconceptions surrounding copyright on The Photography Website.