What things are copyrighted?
A work is considered copyrighted from the moment of creation. In addition to photographs, other works subject to copyright restrictions are motion pictures, books, sculptures, boat hull designs, architectural elements (not the building as a whole), textile designs, music, etc.
Here are examples of works that are NOT copyrighted: works created by the U.S. Government, ideas, short phrases, titles, printed forms and facts to name a few. “Facts” include things like cooking recipes, chemical formulations, telephone directories and databases. “Ideas” include things like dressing children up as faeries or peapods, or posing a bride and groom in a certain fashion.
Who owns the copyright?
The creator of the photograph is usually the copyright owner. A client does not obtain the right by purchasing copies of the work. Nor does the presence of someone in a photograph make them a “co-creator” of the work. However, there are some instances in which the photographer is not the copyright owner. These exceptions are as follows:
- Employees – When an employee creates an image in the course of their job, the company is considered to be the legal author. This is part of the “work-for-hire” doctrine. In contrast, independent contractors own the copyright to the works they create, unless there is an agreement to the contrary.
- Signed Agreement – An artist who is contracted to create a work that will be incorporated into a larger work may also fall under “work-for-hire,” but only if they sign an agreement to that effect.
Copyright ownership is not the same as ownership of a photographic print, digital file or even a film negative. Without a written agreement transferring the rights, all the client owns is the physical object. The copyright owner of a photograph has the exclusive right to, or to authorize others to, do the following:
- Reproduce the work
- Prepared derivatives based on the original work
- Distribute copies of the work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership.
- To display the work publicly.
Protecting your copyright
Copyright is a federal law, and actions can only be heard in federal court. A photographer cannot sue for infringement in any state court, including small claims/magistrates court. Protect your copyright by clearly marking your photographs, whether printed or electronic. Registering your work with the U.S. Copyright Office also helps, as it will improve your access to damages should you need/choose to enforce your copyright in court.
Visit these websites for additional information on copyright: