Why You Should NEVER Give a “Copyright Release”

I know this page is mostly directed to people who are new to photography in general and aren’t necessarily looking to start a photography business. However, I’m sure some of you reading this are aspiring professional photographers, so I wanted to address the issue of giving a “copyright release” with your disc of images.

First of all, I should mention that I am not opposed to giving your client the disc of images. We live in a digital world, and that’s what people want. I get that. But a lot of photographers will give the disc with a COPYRIGHT RELEASE, and this is bad.

Why? I’ll explain.

When you click the shutter on your camera, you have created an image and YOU own the copyright to that image. This means that you legally have control over what happens to that image and where/how it is used. When you release your copyright to a client, YOU no longer have legal rights to the image… the CLIENT does. Yikes! You no longer have the rights to use it how you want (on your website, in marketing material, etc), and you can no longer control what the client does with the images. You might tell them that they can’t put them online, but guess what? They now own the copyright, so they can do whatever they want! They can even edit the pictures with their own crazy Photoshop actions! Obviously, this is not a good situation.

So what do I do?

Instead of giving your clients a copyright release with their photos, give them a PRINT RELEASE. Or, you could call it a usage license, or usage rights. Your clients will need to have something that proves they have permission to print their pictures at a print lab, but they do not need a copyright release for this! They simply need a print release that says you, the photographer, gives the client permission to print the images. You can outline how the client is allowed to use the images online, and that they are not allowed to edit the photos themselves. My print release also clearly states that the print release DOES NOT release copyright and that I maintain copyright of all the images.

If you know any other photographers who are giving away their copyright, please share this article with them!

A little disclaimer: you should always have an attorney look over your contracts and legal documents to make sure you have all of your bases covered!


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