Every photographer is protective of their work and most take the extra step to watermark their images due to the wide spread, rapid use of the internet. A digital watermark is a logo or text signature that is placed over an image to clearly state the owner of the image if the image is ever used without permission. Removing this watermark without the consent of the owner is the equivalent of stealing the image. If it is found that an image has been used without the proper consent of the owner, the abuser may be sued in civil court for damages.

Some copy and print shops won’t reproduce photograph prints without a waiver from the photographer giving the client/customer permission to reprint their work. It is always best to ask your photographer for this waiver, even when you have paid for their services, as the client/subject still does not have ownership to the images. They have simply paid for the photographer’s time and their use of the photographs.

Here’s an excerpt from the U.S. Copyright Office notating the photograph copyright act:

Ownership of a “copy” of a photograph – the tangible embodiment of the “work” – is distinct from the “work” itself – the intangible intellectual property. The owner of the “work” is generally the photographer or, in certain situations, the employer of the photographer. Even if a person hires a photographer to take pictures of a wedding, for example, the photographer will own the copyright in the photographs unless the copyright in the photographs is transferred, in writing and signed by the copyright owner, to another person. The subject of the photograph generally has nothing to do with the ownership of the copyright in the photograph. If the photographer is no longer living, the rights in the photograph are determined by the photographer’s will or passed as personal property by the applicable laws of intestate succession.

There may be situations in which the reproduction of a photograph may be a “fair use” under the copyright law. Information about fair use may be found at: www.copyright.gov/fls/fl102.html. However, even if a person determines a use to be a “fair use” under the factors of section 107 of the Copyright Act, a copy shop or other third party need not accept the person’s assertion that the use is noninfringing. Ultimately, only a federal court can determine whether a particular use is, in fact, a fair use under the law.

Credit: US Copyright Office

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