All Photographers Need to Know About Copyright

Did you realize you have the right to use someone else’s work? If you snap a photograph, you own the rights to that image under US copyright law. Copyright law impacts all photographers, not only those who are in business and make money from their photos. Understanding your rights under US copyright law is more crucial than ever, given the ease with which photos may be shared online. Let’s take a look at 7 copyright facts that every photographer should be aware of.

I’d want to begin by stating that I am not a lawyer. I am not giving legal advice; rather, I am sharing what I have learned about US copyright law from my own experiences, study, and classes. Furthermore, copyright rules differ considerably around the world. If you’re reading this from somewhere other than the United States, it should serve as a reminder to familiarize yourself with your country’s copyright rules.

1. Automatic copyright

If you’ve ever taken a photograph, you’re a copyright holder. To own or establish your copyright, you do not need to file anything, publish anything, or take any action; it is automatic and immediate. When you create an image, you automatically acquire the copyright. There are several reasons why you should register your copyright (some of which will be discussed shortly), but registration is not essential to possess the copyright to your photos.

There is one exception: when you generate work under a “made for hire” agreement. If you are shooting for yourself, either personally or professionally, this exclusion does not apply to you and you need not be concerned. If, on the other hand, you are an employee of a firm and create work for your employer’s use, you may be subject to a work for hire agreement, which makes the employer the owner of the copyright. You can assume that this exception does not apply to you unless you are specifically creating work for your employer as part of your job.

2. Before you can file an infringement lawsuit, you must first register your copyright.

If someone violates your copyright and you desire to file an infringement lawsuit against them, you may not do so until you have registered your copyright with the US Copyright office. While it is necessary to register your copyright before you may sue an infringer, it is not necessary to have registered your copyright before the infringement occurred. However, registering your copyright prior to infringement provides you with many greater safeguards and privileges.

copyright images

3. It is not necessary to use the Copyright Symbol when publishing work.

It’s a good idea to use the copyright sign to watermark or caption your photographs when you post them. It serves as a good reminder to the reader that your image is protected by copyright law. Because some individuals wrongly believe that photographs without a copyright sign are open to using, it’s a good first step toward securing your work online. However, US Copyright law states unequivocally that utilizing the copyright sign or notice of copyright is not required to protect your work. Your photographs are yours, whether or not you label them when you publish them.

4. Registering your copyright with the United States Copyright Office provides further protection for your images.

If you register your copyright before infringement (or within three months of publication), you may be eligible for further protection in the event of a copyright lawsuit. Registering your copyright after infringement confines your case to actual damages (the amount of money you lose as a result of the infringement) rather than statutory damages (damages valued by the law on the basis and type of infringement). Because actual losses can be difficult to show and may be limited in some situations, the opportunity to claim statutory damages is a compelling reason to register your copyright when creating new work.

5. Copyright grants you ownership of the image, but how you use it may be restricted by other factors.

Owning the copyright to a picture is akin to owning a car. When you own a car, you can do whatever you want with it, but there are some restrictions on how you can use it. You must still respect the rules of the road as an owner. Similarly, having copyright gives you ownership of an image, but there may be restrictions on how you may use your creativity. Some scenarios, for example, necessitate a model release or a property release before publishing an image, and copyright ownership does not nullify such obligations. Even if you hold the copyright on a photograph, you can arrange a licensing agreement that limits your own use of it.

6. You have the option of allowing someone to use your image without giving up your copyright.

It’s critical to grasp the distinction between license and copyright. You have the right to license your image to another party as the owner of the copyright. Licensing is a method of allowing someone permission to use your image without impacting the image’s (copyright) ownership. The level of control you wish to allow people over your photographs can vary depending on the licensing agreement; you can grant them rights to use your image for a certain purpose for a specific amount of time, or you can provide them broad usage rights.

copyright for photographer

Regardless matter how you chose to license an image, you can provide them permission to use it without relinquishing ownership. If someone wants to use one of your photographs, be sure you know exactly what rights you’re offering them and if those rights are for licensed use or copyright.

7. Just because someone uses your work does not mean they are infringing on your intellectual property rights.

While the law allows the copyright holder the sole right to reproduce. Exhibit, and distribute their work, there are a few exceptions in which someone can lawfully utilize a copyrighted photograph. For example, sharing an image or quoting a portion of a written work for the purpose of reporting on it or education may be permissible under fair use. However, the extent of fair use is quite limited, and in most circumstances, when someone uses your image without your permission, it constitutes copyright infringement.


Is copyright required for photography?

If you’ve ever taken a photograph, you’re a copyright holder. To own or establish your copyright, you do not need to file anything, publish anything, or take any action; it is automatic and immediate. When you create an image, you automatically acquire the copyright.

What exactly is copyright in photography?

First and foremost, what precisely is photo copyright? In photography, copyright means that you own an image that you generated. According to the law, you formed that image as soon as the shutter was released. This means that copyright laws for photographers stipulate that whoever clicked the button owns the copyright.

Is a watermark considered copyright?

A watermark can contain your company’s name, your personal name, or your logo. Again, the watermark is not protected by copyright. Your work is already copyright protected as soon as it is made, and the watermark might act as a reminder to people not to steal your photographs because you are copyright protected.

Is it legal for me to copyright my face?

“Can I trademark my face?” many people wonder. Regrettably, the short answer is no. Copyright only applies to man-made creative endeavors. Items present in nature, such as DNA and human faces, were not produced on purpose by man. Instead, they are seen as a natural occurrence.

To know more copyright, Watch this video:


As photographers, we must have a basic awareness of the rights and protections afforded to us under US copyright law. Because copyright law is fairly intricate. I urge that you consult with a qualified intellectual property lawyer for information and questions about a specific situation.

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