Should a Professional Photographer Give Away Their Copyright? 5

Should a Professional Photographer Give Away Their Copyright?

Certain unique situations a client will call for the transfer of copyright  / ownership of the photographers work. In these cases the professional is amply compensated, many times monetarily, for the sale of their copyright. I will cover these situations in a future discussion but for now; let’s look at the majority of commissioned photographic projects:

I hear this all the time … (voice of client)

  • I want ownership / copyright to all my photos
  • I want to be able to make my own prints
  • I want a CD or DVD with all original photos


Let me ask you something:

Q: Would a photographer or any other creative that was truly passionate about the work they do for you, your organization, product or event, be inclined to give away ownership to their creative work?

… So, just who the heck are these people that are willing to give away their copyright at a drop of a hat?

In the industry many professionals call them Warriors / “Weekend Warrior” to be exact. These are the individuals that have contaminated the photographic market place with mundane, mediocre and at times just plain crap photography. These individuals have no vested interested in their photographs nor the client’s vision. They simply shoot, get a check and drop a CD in the mail and it’s back to the 9-5 on Monday morning. The result? … Well, I think you can figure it out.

I touched on this topic indirectly in an earlier discussion entitled “ Do I Need A Professional Photographer? “.

I don’t know about you but when I hire a creative for a project I expected 110%; Mediocrity is not an option and if you wish to be “ MEDIOCRE “ you can do it somewhere else on some else’s dime not mine!

When a photographer is allowed to let their inner creative out the results can be truly magical. This magic translates to the client as increased sales, a beautiful wedding album, an acting job, a modeling opportunity, more guests at their next event and so on and so forth!

Please DO NOT insult the creative professional by asking them to discount their artistry or request that they turn over ownership to their work. If you cannot afford a professional, simply look elsewhere to someone that is more inline with you or your organizations budgetary constraints. Hiring a part-time photographer, “Weekend Warrior”, instead of a professional may be completely adequate if quality is less of an issue then quantity and or price. There is a place for everyone in the industry and it remains the client’s responsibility to educate themselves as to whom they need to hire and just WHY they need to hire them.

A professional photographer’s passion for what they create should run through every vein in their body and you should know it and feel it when speaking to them about your project. The world runs around money but to many professional photographers and creatives alike, their artistry, is equally as important and at times ever more. Find one, give them respect and reap the rewards of their passion.

Bottom-line: If a photographer or creative is eager to give away his or her ownership to their work, chances are, your project is not that important to them. Today more than ever mediocre is just not good enough.

About Joseph Cristina

I'm a full-time Palm Beach based Professional Photographer with over 18 years experience in both Photography and Graphic / Media Production. Formal training was received from FAU and the Art Institute in the late 80's. I've worked within multiple advertising agencies along with having work published internationally. Allure Multimedia, LLC is my photographic and multimedia studio base in the sunny Palm Beach, FL. The studio's capacities are many from professional photography to advertising design and multimedia presentation ie. (Wedding Photography, Corporate Events, Modeling, Mitzvahs, TV and Internet Advertising Spots) to name a few. In this digital age, the number of part-time photographers has increase 100 fold diluting the industry with what are known as "weekend warriors". This has lend itself to a rise of a cottage industry of amateurs posing as professionals, underbidding and misleading only to then produce mediocre, at best, final production work. Clients coming to us for professional photography or media creation are reassured by our professionalism, impeccable service, and final product provided, they have made the right decision in commissioning our studio.

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5 thoughts on “Should a Professional Photographer Give Away Their Copyright?

  • Tony Blei

    Giving away your copyright or even selling it for a low-ball price is bad business.

    The image you create when you push the button is one-of-a-kind. It’s special. Giving away your copyright is the same as giving away real estate. Someone will profit and someone will lose.

    I’m with you, Joseph. If people give you the “Take it, or Leave it” offer, leave it. You will keep your integrity AND your property. They, in turn, will have to go search for another baby to steal the candy from.

  • Lori Osterberg

    I completely agree, and talk about this one point more than probably anything else. New-to-the-business photographers are always questioning how they can’t give away the CDs when that’s the first thing their clients ask.

    Not only do we have to be more firm in our rights to our creative work, but we also have to be better at marketing to make our clients understand why its important we don’t release the rights. We can change this industry wide unwritten rule if we work to educate everyone as a whole.

  • Trevor Current

    Joseph, this is a great post and you raise some very valid points about giving your copyright away. I’m going to comment from the viewpoint of a graphic designer/commercial photographer. I’ve been in the field for over 20 years and work with some very, very large clients that pay very well for the work I produce. It’s their policy that when purchasing photography they want full ownership of the images so they can be used for what ever they want wether it be a magazine ad, billboard, collateral material, packaging, etc.

    Years ago giving up your copyright as a photographer was unheard of. The photographer would just license out the images for multiple uses and clients were willing to pay. In today’s economy with budgets being so tight, companies are not willing to pay the extra money for licensing and want a set fee to use the images how they wish. Because of this we set our fee based on hours it takes to produce the image including any outside expenses such as food styling, props, etc. and charge a premium. We are well compensated for our time and feel this is a reasonable way to do business with our clients. We also look at building a long term relationship with our clients producing many years of great work for them. As the saying goes, “we make it up in volume”.

    I look at it like this, as a graphic designer we are asked to create corporate identities including logo design for our clients all the time. The client will want to use that logo on everything they do. Even though we technically own the copyright to that logo design, it’s really not possible to license the use of the logo for all their different purposes, it would be to expensive and unreasonable. Instead we look at the size of the company, the potential growth of the company, what type of market they’re in (B-to-B or B-to-C) and place a value on what that logo will be worth to them. We also take in to account the amount of repeat business we’ll do for them. In the long run we are giving away the copyrights to our graphic work all the time and to us the photography is just another part of the project.

    Now looking at it from a wedding photographers standpoint, giving away the copyright would mean the loss of additional income. Chances are you’ll only photograph a wedding for a client one time, so there really isn’t much of a chance for repeat business. The only repeat business you’ll have is from the albums and prints they order. If you give the client the images on disc, you’re basically giving up all that additional revenue. But as you said, more and more people want to be able to make their own prints. Todays desktop inkjet printers do a really nice job and most are happy with that quality. So maybe you need to ask yourself, are you an artistic photographer with a unique vision that can offer a different take on a wedding shoot, or are you a photograph printer? If you don’t have anything special to offer over the “Weekend Warrior” then your are in direct competition with them and will need the money from print sales to supplement your income. My feeling is charge accordingly to what your skill and expertise are worth. If your vision is unique enough and fits the clients tastes they will pay extra for it. I would figure what you would normally make from print sales (profit), add that into your set price for the day and tell them you’ll give them a disc with the best high res. images. Unless you own a photo lab or have the equipment yourself, you’re just brokering out the business anyway, but it’s still your responsibility for the quality of the prints and delivering them on time. Why not take that headache away and concentrate on what you do best, making great images. If a client wants the wedding album or large wall prints, you can certainly provide that service and make some extra money at the same time.

    The subject of creative copyrights have always been in a gray area. If you have the creative vision and expert skills to go along with it, you’ll attract the type of clients that are willing to pay for it. If a potential client can’t see it and thinks you’re to expensive then it’s not a good match and you wouldn’t want to work for them anyway. As you said, the creme always rises to the top and those who want the best are willing to pay for the best. Give the clients what they want and you will get business returned to you 10x over.

  • Wendy

    I’ve had issues just like this come up. I live in Nashville where there are plenty of shoots going on in the country music industry, and everyone wants to own the copyrights. There are also very many photographers out here that are willing to do a shoot like this for free just because they are getting to shoot someone famous. Problem? ABSOLUTELY! However… I have to meet the clients’ need. I’m not going to lose the client just because someone else is willing to give them the copyright. I just have to adapt. Everyone is feeling the economy crunch right now. Even the country music industry. So I think it is time for all of us to rethink the way things are and compare them to the way things use to be, and adapt. Instead of putting my foot down and allowing another photographer to outbid me, I will adapt. I love my work waaaayyyyy too much to be forced out by someone else.