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Why You Need a Copyright Contract for Photographers

Why Photographers Need a Copyright Contract

Having a cancellation policy in your photographer's contract is a good start toward protecting your wallet, but it's only one piece of the puzzle. The protection of your earnings shouldn't end when the event does. What happens to all of those photos after the event, and how will they be used?

Copyrights and Usage Rights

A copyright comes into existence the moment an artist creates something. You, as the photographer, are the artist, and your creation is the photo. Even with no contract in existence, the law says that you automatically have copyrights on that image, and no one may use this image without your permission. 

So, what if you give someone permission to use the photos? This is the essence of many contracts that photographers make with corporations. The photographer owns the copyright on the photos, and the client wants to use those photos for their business. Therefore, a section of the contract will stipulate how the company may use those images. 

It may state something to the effect of, “The client shall be allowed to use the photographs for advertising,” but this is problematic because advertising is a very broad term. ‘Advertising’ could mean images on a company’s website or a national advertising campaign–imagine worldwide advertising campaigns and millions of dollars in revenue for the corporation while all you get is your original $1,500 fee. 

If your contract was well-written, it may have specified that the client could only use your images for their website, and any additional usage would require your permission and a negotiation of additional licensing fees before the images are used. This is how you protect your photos from being exploited without your agreement, should the client begin to make some serious money with them. 

Copyrights Can Be for Sale

While the default law is that you always own a copyright, even without a contract, the reality is that copyrights are often bought and sold. To continue using the example of a photography contract with a corporation, if the corporation is a huge, multinational conglomerate, it may not want to have to haggle with you every time it wants to use your photo in a new ad campaign. 

In circumstances like this, the contract may stipulate that the client will own both the copyrights and the usage rights.Because you are completely signing away your rights to your photos, you can expect to charge a much higher fee–this is why you need a photographer agreement contract template.

Termination Clauses

Don’t worry, a robot from the future isn’t coming to steal your photos. Termination clauses are conditions for when a contract may be terminated or considered void. These conditions can include non-payment, breach of contract, and mutual agreement. 

These clauses are designed to protect both parties in the event that things go wrong. They specify what happens if the contract is terminated, often indicating that the usage rights return to the photographer.  

Stay Protected With Fewer Words

We’ve only begun to scratch the surface of copyright contracts and usage rights. For example, outlining terms for family portraits with a photographer is an entire conversation of its own.However, small-time clients may feel overwhelmed if they need to read a 500-page document before signing on the dotted line. 

What matters is keeping things clear and having in writing that the photographer retains the copyrights and the client is free to use the photos for personal and non-commercial use. This way, everyone knows where they stand, and your rights are protected!

Kevin Gallagher
Kevin Gallagher

Kevin Gallagher is the CEO of The Contract Shop®, a contract template store for creative entrepreneurs, freelancers, coaches, and more. His background is in helping online businesses grow, having previously worked at Allbirds managing part of their operations. He is proud to report that his digital artist wife Mandy is a happy customer of The Contract Shop®, and his main motivation is to help as many people like her as possible with the tools that they need to confidently manage their businesses.

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