What Does it Mean if the Photographer Keeps the Copyright on my Wedding Photos?

Little bridesmaid looking up to bride


For many wedding photographers and couples the whole issue of copyright of the wedding photos seems to cause a great deal of stress and worry. The copyright law on wedding photos, as it currently exists, is there to deal with only rather extreme cases of people wanting to use the wedding photographs in ways that you probably wouldn’t always expect or wish them to. In 99% of cases both the wedding photographer and the couples will naturally just want to use the wedding photographs in a way that is completely inline with copyright law without even thinking about it.


So, you’re completely OK if:

You want a digital copy of all of the pictures from your wedding.

You want to be able to print and share them for private use.

You have no intention of altering the pictures in any way.

You won’t be selling your wedding photos.

Phew! Big sigh of relief. That’s exactly all you probably want to do with your pictures, it’s all any sensible person would intend doing and is ……. erm……well common sense really!


It’s also exactly what any sensible wedding photographer would want and expect you do do with your wedding photographs as well.

Luckily the copyright law that covers wedding photograph pretty much allows for the above automatically.


St Marys Saffron Walden, signing the register at a wedding


So, what exactly is the copyright law on wedding photography?

Well, as the creator of the photographs, the actual copyright rests with the photographer. In many ways this seems crazy as you have paid out your hard earned cash for the photographer to take photos of your wedding! Why on earth would the photographer have the rights over them!?


Essentially, it’s to prevent other people from further profiting from the pictures eg selling them to stock picture agencies or magazines. To a certain extent this is hilarious as, when I mention this to couples I work with when they ask, they point out that Vogue has never been that interested in their wedding pictures anyway!


It also, probably more importantly, prevents people from altering the pictures in any way. This is probably a little more pertinent as no photographer really wants another person altering their work and then showing other people. It could well reflect badly on them or at the very least give the wrong impression. To be fair few people are going to pay out for a professional photographer who will edit and work on their photographs to make them look beautiful and then change the pictures in Photoshop themselves. However, this part of the copyright law does technically prevent anyone else downloading the images from the internet and changing or using them for themselves. It’s surprising how many people will try to pass other people’s photographs off as their own – not funny methinks!


Finally, for the wedding photographer, owning the copyright to the wedding photographs means that they are technically allowed to sell them. Generally this means selling prints via an online gallery to the couple’s friends and family but can also mean selling images to stock sites and magazines.


I have to be honest and say that reprint sales are generally very low due to the nature of the digital market place today, stock sales are financially extremely unrewarding and few magazines are interested in paying for wedding photography. This whole area is really not an issue unless the photographs are of a celebrity or have some other newsworthy value. It’s also worth mentioning that for the photographer to sell pictures of recognisable people as well they need an individually signed model release.


Bridesmaid and page boy


So that’s all the theory. But where does this leave a sensible and mutually beneficial arrangement between the wedding photographer and the couple?


For me, I do it like this:

The copyright of the pictures rests with me as this is the law. From my point of view I have no intention of selling them to anyone apart from through the online gallery and my clients are in control of who they wish to share this with. I also always ask if it’s OK for me to use any of the pictures from the wedding for my personal promotion ie on my blog or social media. I strongly believe that you have the ethical, if not the legal rights over what happens to the photographs. They are of a personal and private time and you should have the choice for the pictures to be in the public domain or not.


From the couple’s point of view I am completely happy for the pictures to be printed and shared for personal use. In fact I actively encourage sharing, particularly on social media as it’s great publicity for me! I just ask that they are not sold or put to use for anyone else’s financial gain and that they are not altered in any way.

In order for this to happen there is just a simple clause in my contract that grants a licence for personal use.


Maybe I have been lucky but, in hundreds of weddings over the last 13 years I have never had an issue with copyright. Partly I think this is down to having a good working relationship with my clients and, if there is trust and good communication between us as well as a good dose of old fashioned common sense then there is little to worry about.


I know some photographers get really hot under the collar about this sort of thing and their rights and the potential to leverage their ownership of the copyright to their advantage is a bitterly contested issue. Much of this harks back to the pre digital age, the world and photography has moved on – it’s time to catch up.


If you are looking for a wedding photographer who understands and has a sensible view on copyright then GET IN TOUCH – I would love to hear from you.


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