While the concept of copyrights and authorship may seem fairly straightforward, statistics show that over 85% of photos used online are subject to copyright infringements. Wow!
That photo that you shot for your website might belong to someone else. This article focuses on the concept of "work for hire" which could rob you of your rights to your photos. Know your rights and don't let yourself be taken advantage of.
A Copyright is similar to the pink slip of a car. It is the right to use, license, sell and keep others fro using your work of authorship. A work of authorship includes many different forms of media, including photographs, films, scripts, music and title sequences.
The author of a photograph owns the Copyright the second the shutter snaps, no registration required. However, you should register your work if you intend to publish it commercially or on the internet. If a cameraman takes a photo without the help of others, he or she is the author and therefore the owner of the Copyright to the photograph. If two or more people collaborate in taking the photo, each person who participated is a joint author and is therefore a joint owner of the Copyright. That could mean the director, photographer, stylist, or even the production assistant.
If a company commissions the photo to be taken and pays the crew as employees, the company is the sole owner of the Copyright, no matter how many people collaborated on the photo. This concept is called work for hire. On the other hand, if a company commissions the photo to be taken and the crew and independent contractors, the crew would own the copyright to the photo unless a written agreement states that the photo shoot is considered a work for hire and the agreement is signed by the crew.
Under California Rights of Publicity, the model or subject has a right to their likeness too. If the model is not paid or the photographer doesn't obtain a signed release, the model can be your worst nightmare and demand money if the photo is published on the Internet or in an advertisement. No matter if a photo is Copyrighted or protected under Rights of Publicity, the photograph can still be used in certain ways as speech or expression under the protection offered by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
The next time you collaborate with others on a photo shoot and you would like to be the sole owner of the copyrights to the photos, you should have the crew sign work for hire releases and have the models sign rights of publicity releases. An attorney can prepare these for you. If you don't do this, the models and members of the crew could hijack your project.
About the Author: Francois Auroux contributes a unique perspective to his cases at the law office of Pyka Lenhardt Schnaider Zell. His role at the firm requires knowledge of intellectual property law, business law, personal injury and insurance law.