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Copyright Guidelines for Photographers, Employees & Contractors

Photographers Deserve Payment for Their Work, and Our Copyright Lawyers Fight for You

Photographers work hard at their craft. Whether it is waiting patiently for the perfect sunset or working tirelessly to set the right stage for an advertising campaign, being a photographer takes skill and creativity. Like all professionals, photographers expect to get paid for their work. Yet, many individuals and businesses assume that pictures are free to use as they please, often without securing permission from or compensating the owner of the images.

If you are a photographer who works independently or for an employer, you should understand your rights to control your work product and to receive compensation for it. US Copyright law exists for your benefit – it provides you with ownership rights over your pictures. However, ownership lines can blur when you get hired to work for someone else. It is essential that in any work for hire arrangement, you know what to expect with regards to the photographs that result. At Sanders Law Group, we work tirelessly to ensure photographers across the globe receive the protection, representation, and compensation they deserve for their work and that the terms of their agreements are fair and just.

US Copyright Law Automatically Protects Photographers

Copyright exists the moment a photograph is taken. In most situations, whoever took the picture owns the rights to that image. Copyright means that the owner has the exclusive right to reproduce and display the photograph. The rights are bestowed automatically.

As the holder of a copyright, a photographer may license the use of his or her photograph to someone with or without receiving compensation. The exact terms of the license get outlined in a contract whereby the photographer may grant limited or unlimited use of the image and set payment arrangements. If the license holder violates the agreement by using the images in ways that exceed the scope of the contract, a copyright violation or breach of contract may occur.

What happens, however, when someone hires a photographer to take pictures? What about when a corporation or advertising agency hires someone to do a campaign or do a photo shoot? What if a newspaper employs a photographer? Under these circumstances, copyright gets a bit more complicated. You should consider enlisting the help of an experienced copyright lawyer such as the ones at the Sanders Law Group, to ensure your rights are protected to the full extent of the law.

What is Work for Hire?

Work for hire is shorthand for “a work made for hire.” It includes any work created that can be copyrighted. Examples of work that can be copyrighted include:

  • Computer programs
  • Songs
  • Photographs
  • Paintings
  • Graphic design
  • Stories
  • Essays
  • Sculptures

Work for hire is work that is created as part of a person’s job or by someone who is acting as an independent contractor. Work for hire applies when:

  1. An employee creates work during his or her normal functions as an employee
  2. An independent contractor completes a commissioned piece of work or assignment

Work for hire does not belong to the creator of the work. Under the US copyright act of 1976, the publishing rights and copyright of work for hire belong to the employer. The employer has the right to use it for financial gain and take credit for the work. The creator has no rights to the work under work for hire.

Photographers Who are Employees Have No Rights to Their Work

As stated above, any photographs generated by a photographer during the course of employment belong to the employer. The copyright automatically belongs to the company and not the individual who created the images.

However, there are times when it is unclear whether something was created during the course of employment. When trying to determine whether a photograph was an employee creation, the following things are considered:

  • Whether the photograph was the kind of work the employee was hired to do
  • Whether the creation of the work occurred mostly during work hours
  • Whether the work was done to serve the company, at least in part

For example, assume if you are an employee for an advertising agency and take photographs of a product for a campaign instead of using an outside photographer. Your employer owns all the rights to those pictures, including copyright. If you write a blog or a song about the product, the company also owns the copyright to those.

Independent Contractors Who Get Hired for Commissioned Work Face Challenges

Work for hire also occurs when someone or a company hires a photographer for a particular job or to complete a specific task. In this situation, the parties typically enter into a written agreement that sets forth the terms of the job and includes a “work for hire” clause or specific language stating that the company will be the exclusive copyright owner. There may also be language stating that the photographer will refrain from displaying or using the work in any way.

Work for hire must also fall into one of nine categories:

  1. As a contribution to a collective work
  2. As part of a motion picture or other audiovisual work
  3. As a translation
  4. As a supplementary work
  5. As a compilation
  6. As an instructional test
  7. As a test
  8. An answer material for a test
  9. As an atlas.

Photographers are Not Required to Sign a Work for Hire Agreement

When work that you do is not for hire, you retain the copyright. You can then decide what to do with it. You can assign your copyright, which will eventually revert back to you. You can negotiate the terms of a license, so you get compensation and/or retain the ability to use or control the work in some ways. With a license agreement, you get to decide when, how, and where your work gets used.

Contact Our Copyright Lawyers Today

If you are unsure about how to protect your rights contact our copyright lawyers at Sanders Law Group. Our lawyers can:

  • Review an agreement entirely and thoroughly, making sure all key points are present.
  • Make sure the contract clearly lays out the work you’re expected to do, the amount you’re getting paid, when you’ll get paid, and deadlines.
  • Make sure you understand your rights- what you are getting and giving up
  • File a copyright lawsuit if someone is violating your copyright
  • File a breach of contract suit if someone is violating a license agreement

Call Sanders Law Group today at 888-348-3090 for a free evaluation of your claim.

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