The Price of Pixels: Fast Cars and Why Photographers will not give your their copyright (for free)
The Price of Pixels
Fast Cars and Why Photographers will not give you their Copyright
How the photographer copyright conversation comes up
Client : Thanks for the information you sent over. We would love to go ahead. Please send your contract.
Client : Everything is great we would just like to query your ownership of the images of our event. It says you own the images.
Photographer : Well, yes. I do.
The conversation starts from here.
What is copyright and who owns it?
Copyright – a legal right that grants the creator exclusive ownership over the use of their work. When you hire a photographer, you’re commissioning a piece of creative work, not buying it outright. That creative work is owned by the creator, in this case the photographer. Here is another example from the creative world, you hire a writer or music producer to write a song or produce a piece of music for an event, who owns the song / music? The creator.
So what does this mean for the client
In real terms nothing!
The clients I cover events for have a perpetual licence to use for all their none commercial marketing and promotion for their business, they cannot however sell or relicense the image for others to use or sell.
Is that is?
It does not mean that your images will come with my logo / water mark on them, they will not, in fact I mostly will deliver two copies to my client, one with the event logo on for social media, and one without for use in magazine and news articles etc.
So why do clients even ask for the photographers copyright if it is potentially worth so much to them (the artist)?
Clients often simply do not know.
It is something they have be misinformed about in the past, it then has not been picked up on …until you come across certain photographers that know their works worth! lol
Commissioners also speak about wanting to cover ‘all eventualities’ including ones they cannot think of or have not heard of … as odd as this may sound.
My clients use the images for : website, socials, articles in magazines and newspapers about their event, sponsorship packs for future spoors, pull up banners and newsletters.
As long as this is what you need say event photos for example for, there are no issues, you do not need copyright, and it will cost you nothing further to use these images for as long as you want to. I recently was faced with this exact situation, I asked the client if they could think of any uses outside of those I have listed that they would need the images for, their response was no … but still insisted on copyright.
If you now want to add these images to a book to be sold, or a t shirt that is being sold, it makes it commercial use.
The quote would then have to be adjusted to include this.
It’s just not possible to have a quote for a licence but it then also include copyright (which is a rights transfer). Not for any professional photographer anyway!
I recently had a client ask for copyright. I asked if they wanted to sell the images, “oh no I don’t need to transfer ownership or anything like that!” – which literally is what asking for copyright is doing. There is so much misunderstanding from clients on all things copyright.
A quote the covers EVERYTHING!
It is commercially impossible to get a quote for a, b and c, but for it to also include d e f g h i j k and l. This is literally what you are asking for when you ask this of a photographer.
In what other business would this be possible? Think about asking your electrician for a quote foe one socket, but also wanting that same quote to cover putting in spotlights, and extractor fan and uplighter too. Impossible right? Exactly!
Somehow because photographs are now more than often a digital product, many people do not see it this way; so let’s look another licensed product for a comparison.
You buy a licence for Adobe to use Photoshop on 1 machine. You later want that licence to cover your partner and children.
Now maybe also your nieces and nephews, maybe a couple of friends children too … will this cost the same price?
Of course not, even though it’s a digital product we are aware there are still limits of how it can be used, and more uses will ….cost more. Thats business and capitalism for you!
This works the same way with images and all creative assets.
So why are photographers so precious about keeping their copyright?
Firstly, it’s theirs / ours.
If someone was to ask you for 20% of your future income for no reason at all other that the fact you asked, and think it MAY be useful to you in future, for some reason you cannot even think of, but it may come up, you may look at them strangely and ask why?
How often do we willingly give away assets we own for free? It is also worth THOUSANDS of pounds. Copyright is not something that has no value, just because it is digital. Consider each photo as a product, an inventory in a store, now total up the price of all of those products that you may be requesting for free.
Further reasons photographers retain their right
Photographs are more than just moments frozen in time; they are a photographer’s livelihood.
In the digital era, these images become reusable assets, easily copied and distributed at minimal cost. By retaining copyright, photographers safeguard their income, ensuring they receive fair compensation for their skill and effort if they are reused in various ways. Again consider this example. A photographer takes an image of a beautiful landscape. The company who have commissioned this was to use this on their website and socials. Fine.
They have now had others enquire about purchasing the landscape, and decide to put it on saleable products. Ikea gets in contact and now also want to put this image on a canvas in the store. All of this happens and the canvas sells multiple millions worldwide. The business also sells thousands, with the image the photographer created. If they retained copyright (as is normal) this would be an important part of their livelihood (similar to music royalties).
If they didn’t they would be down millions, but up maybe the £6-700 (one time fee) they charged for the commission.
Can you see what a catastrophic business mistake it would have been to transfer their copyright.
Consider this music analogy case as another example. Pusha T reportedly wrote the lyrics for the longest running McDonalds jingle “Im Loving’ It”, in his naivity he accepted a one time fee and signed over his copyright. (this would be similar to a photographer accepting a single payment for the job and signing over copyright). McDonalds then used this ad widely! It became their longest running ad! I have no idea if Pusha T knew this was the plan or not. You will see figures online claiming they spent 1.7 billion running the ad, imagine how much business this created for them?
If Pusha T had kept his copyright, meaning he would get royalties on what he created, he would have had a much bigger income for a longer period of time than his 500,000.
Ok so this is music, what has this got to do with photography you may be thinking?
One medium is an image created by a photographer, one medium is a song / jingle created by a musician. The copyright, licence, royalties work the same way for both. It is just that people often understand it clearer with music.
Other reasons to maintain ownership – inappropriate use
Imagine if someone uses the photo inappropriately.
Some asks who the photographer is.
It now damages your reputation and you have no recourse … because you do not own it. You have no legal control over how it is used.
Other reasons to maintain ownership – value and storage
In future years, long after your contact person is no longer working for that organisation, the company may have wound down and no longer even exists . You decide to do an exhibition of your lifes work, or an exhibition showing life in Birmingham / London wherever the case may be, you would like to include photos from this event as part of that.
You have some that really capture life in the clothes people are wearing, the style of the room etc.
Actually no you cannot … you no longer own the photos. The organisation no longer exists. Laptops were wiped and destroyed. Those images are gone forever, because someone at the time, thought it was best to ‘cover all bases’ by owning the images.
Artists like Dr. Vanley Burke have made a career in the value of these depictions of everyday life many years after the everyday events have taken place.
If you are reading this with a side eye, let’s test it out. Think about the first job you had where USB’s and hard drives were being used for storage (this is anything beyond floppy discs people) I can think about when I worked in the NHS. We had images of every training session we did, young people we worked with, all kinds. I left the NHS in the early 00’s. Where are those images now? Our computer equipment was put into storage when the organisation wound down. My former boss is now retired, everyone moved onto other places. Who would even know where those images are now?
Now let me compare that to images I took personally at that time. They are on my 00’s hard drive, backed up on another drive off site.
You take a picture of someone who turns out to be the future Kanye West early in their career at a networking event. The BBC want to now to a “Making of …” Documentary you realise you had a photo of this person 20 years ago, you can now license that photo for use! A, simple everyday photo is now anything but! Except … you gave away your copyright and your assets.
The company you sold them to no longer exist, or with successive staff changes no one has a clue where those images even are because … they are not photographers, their storage was not as precious.
Another comparison from film now. Film maker Coodie Simmons started following and filming his mate who was a young rapper talking about he was going to make it big. We have probably all had a mate somewhere that said this! for 20 years he had all this footage. Thats what creators do, we store our creations properly. It turns out that this friend, did actually make it big, and became one of the richest men in America. His creation, that footage he recorded of his friend trying to make it, now sold to Netflix for 10 million. His friend is who we all now as Kanye West.
Another scenario. Photographers usually know how to store their images. The number of times I have received calls from previous clients who have “lost” their images and now want copies. Many of us would not store images we do not own, so you lose your images, an employee accidentally deletes them, you have a hardware failure or anything, and they are gone. Your photographer cannot help.
You are probably reading this thinking what has Tracey Chapman got to do with this!
She wrote a song in the 80s, you may have heard of it “Fast Car” … she made good money from it at the time. She was offered a copyright buyout as the writer and refused. The song was covered again in 2023 by a Country Singer Luke Combs it made number one again … Combs mad more than $500,000 in publishing royalties globally since its March 17 release, much of which has gone straight to Chapman. Lucky she kept that copyright.
Now I am not suggesting the photos of your event would generate this future income for me the artist and photographer, if it did, I would not complain.
But its not impossible.
I am sure 20 something year old Chapman never imagined this for her creation either. But again, lucky she understood the worth of her work and … kept the copyright.
Transfer of Rights
While it’s possible to ask photographers to transfer rights, this must be done in writing, and it comes at an increased cost.
I charge a minimum of 4 times the amount of the commission for this because as you can see from all of these valuable, it can become valuable and contribute to future earnings. The only person that can lose in this situation is the photographer / creator.
Copyright transfer means surrendering part of the photographer’s potential income. Photographers can relicense certain images multiple times, providing a steady stream of income over the years. Its not likely with many event images, but it’s also not impossible.
Think about it – how many people willingly give away a portion of their hard-earned income, for free, just because someone asked?
Not many, I guess.
By retaining copyright, photographers preserve control over their work. Misuse or misrepresentation of the images is mitigated, providing a layer of protection that benefits both parties.
Here comes Tracey Chapman again lol. Her work was misused by another artist. She had a legal recourse for this …. because she had copyright.
Is this just you?
Photographers have been serious about this always. There are a plethora or articles online about photographers walking away from gigs and commissions because of “copyright grabs” in music photography for example.
In conclusion, when you hire a photographer, you’re not just getting a set of pictures; you’re investing in a unique, creative process. The copyright is the artist’s safeguard, ensuring fair compensation and preventing unauthorised use.
Your quote is generally one that allows you to use and display the images for various uses.
It does not stop you using and displaying the images for the same things that 99% of my clients use and display them for.
If you are the 1% of other clients, then there is a cost attached to this if its an absolute must!
But it really is over kill and not necessary!
Unless you really want to use the images for something other than what you have stated …. (cue Colombo look!)
If you do ask for my photographer copyright, I will either refuse of increase the quote by 4. My work is worth something. My ownership is worth something. As is anything that you own. Or I will have to turn down the commission as we may not be a good fit, because it is not something I can just GIVE AWAY.
Please respect your photographers and their work.
In the world of pixels and copyrights, understanding the value of creative work is key to a mutually beneficial partnership between photographer and client. Not only will your photographer create and outstanding record of that moment in time, but you can be sure they will defend it should anything go wrong and will also still have it in a number of years time should you ever lose the files and need copies again.
Hopefully this blog has made it all a bit simpler to understand.
(updated February 2024)