Tech Talk – Copyright and the Production Stills photographer

I’m going to start by saying emphatically that I’m not a lawyer and the following are merely my experience and observations based on my personal understanding of copyright as it applies to the role of production stills photographer. Copyright laws vary between jurisdictions and my thoughts are limited to the jurisdictions in which I have worked (ie the United Kingdom and Australia). See below for some really useful links in relation to copyright law).

These thoughts of mine are being published purely for discussion purposes and because its something I’m often asked about both by productions and other photographers.

The Syndicate

Mum's pride over family achievements outweighed her respect for copyright

Who owns the copyright in relation to production stills by the stills photographer?

It depends. Stills photographers can be hired to work on projects in two different ways: as an employee of the production or as a freelance service provider.

Ownership of copyright is going to be determined by the employment contract or the terms and conditions under which the freelance service provider is engaged. But, if not specified in either document is is my understanding that:

In the case of the Stills Photographer is engaged as an employee of the production all copyright to the photographer’s work belongs to the employer unless agreed otherwise. This is pretty standard across any industry where an employee creates intellectual property in the course of their duties.

In the case that the Stills Photographer is engaged as a freelance service provider the work belongs to the the photographer unless agreed otherwise. This scenario is consistent with how most freelance photographers work – they shoot for the client then they license the work to the client to use for a specific period in specific ways.

Regardless of how I am engaged, where possible I try to ensure that there is an agreement with the production for me to be able to publish images I captured on the project purposes of promoting my services as a stills photographer

What about using the images on a photographer’s web site/ blog/ portfolio?

Setting aside the issue of copyright ownership of stills, I am of the belief that use of the stills is for the benefit of the production. In practice I work collaboratively with the production in relation to the use of the images.

You’ll notice on my galleries tab (to the left) that I display the following disclaimer:

Disclaimer All images displayed with permission of the project’s producers

This means even when I have the right to publish images at will, I only publish images with the agreement of the producers. This means often holding back great images from the public so as not to compromise the promotion strategy of the film.

The Junkyard Dogs - Tycan Tournament Warriors and copyright enforcers

What about sharing copies of the photos with actors and crew for their own portfolio or personal records

This question comes up all the time. The most straightforward answer is that its always best for the release of images to go through the production. Its never a bad thing from a networking perspective to assist people to get the photos you’ve taken of them where at all possible.

Useful Copyright Information – Feel free to recommend other great resources, I’m happy to consider including them.

UK Resources
UK Intellectual Property Office – (statutory authority)
Artquest (not for profit information resource)

Australian Resources
Australian Copyright Council – (not for profit information resource)
Arts Law Centre of Australia – (not for profit information resource)

US Resources
US Copyright Office – (statutory authority)

Please feel free to hit me with any comments or questions, I welcome your input (as well as any web traffic you can send my way!).


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