10 Legal Pitfalls That Every Photographer Should Know How To Avoid

1legally_chained image .   Misunderstanding the ownership, or copyright, of a photo has tripped many photographers. You own the copyright to any photo you shoot. The major exception being if you are an employee of a studio or other company. If you’ve been given a photo assignment by your boss or the company, then that is known as “work-for-hire.” You are paid to take the photos, but your employer owns the copyright.

Occasionally, wedding photography customers will request ownership of their photos. Wedding photographers, traditionally, did not sell their customers the film negatives unless customers were willing to pay an additional fee. If you shoot weddings, then be sure there is a clause in your contract with your customers that stipulates your ownership of the digital “originals” and/or your willingness to sell the files for a specific price.

A magazine in which your photos appear may want to own the photos as well as paying you for the assignment. Make sure you read the contract carefully before accepting the assignment, if you want to retain the rights to the photos the publication prints. The publication will copyright an entire issue, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is also copyrighting your photos in its name.

2.   Another major pitfall is shooting on, or even from, private property, without the owner’s permission. The effort to determine the owner, request permission and return to shoot the image you had in mind is minor compared to be arrested for trespassing.

3.   Shooting street photography you expect to be published? Then, anyone in the pictures that can be recognized must sign a model release form to protect you from evading someone’s privacy.

4.   Model releases are particularly necessary if any of the recognizable subjects in photos you expect to sell are minors. In their cases, you must obtain a parent’s signature on the release form.

5.   You must also be careful about revealing a trademarked logo or other graphic element, such as McDonald’s Golden Arches or Mickey Mouse at Disneyworld. Again, you need the signed permission of the trademark owner before you can safely sell the photo. There are a number of minor details of photographing trademarks, which your attorney should be able to explain.

6.   In this post-911 world, you must also be very conscious of photographing prohibited government facilities, installations or other designated structures or places. You may also need written permission to shoot inside various municipal, county, state or federal buildings. There are also various statues relating to photography at all levels of government that you should know before you find yourself being interviewed in a windowless room!

7.   Be aware of copyrighted works in your photos. For example, works of art in a museum may often be photographed for private use; but, again, if you’re expectation is to sell your photos, then you may need the written permission of the copyright holder first.

8.   The expectation-of-privacy pitfall relates to #3 above. An individual has the right to expect a certain amount of privacy, even in public places. He or she may not want to be seen at that location or with the person accompanying him or her.

9.   A customer could easily sue you if you fail to take the photos he or she requested and paid you to record, or you lost or accidentally deleted the customer’s images. That’s why errors-and-omissions insurance is necessary for any photographer, architect or similar professional.

10.        It’s not unusual for photographers to become a bit one-track-minded when in the midst of capturing the necessary images to fulfill an assignment and be paid top commissions. You can’t be so focused on your work, however, as to create a dangerous situation, especially in a public place. Don’t expect to set up your tripod at the emergency entrance of the hospital or block an emergency exit on public transportation. Some cities will grant you a permit if you need to use a section of public sidewalk for a fashion shoot, for example.

These are just some of the many legal issues that can ruin your day or even your photography career. That is why PhotographyTalk advises that if you’re working as a semi-pro or a full-time pro you need an attorney on your business team. Ask him or her to guide you past the pitfalls; and don’t hesitate to consult him or her whenever you’re unsure. A hour of legal time is much less costly than making a mistake that results in being arrested or sued for thousands.

The information in this PhotographyTalk.com article is general in nature.  PhotographyTalk.com does not provide legal advice or imply legal strategies for photography business owners. They should seek such advice from qualified professionals.

People who read this PhotographyTalk.com article also liked:

Feel free to visit our photography general discussion forum