Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Lesson on Copyright

A few weeks ago, I got a call from a very upset Bloom client. She said that her colleague who came for a photoshoot at our studio has seen her semi-nude photo in our portfolio album. She was furious that we did not inform her and said that we have violated her rights and wanted to sue us.

I was taken aback. Several questions ran through my head and I sought advice and much needed information on copyrights from fellow professionals, friends in the legal circle and the internet. The below paragraph (extracted from this website) sums up the information I received:

Who owns the copyright on photographs?
Under law, it is the photographer who will own copyright on any photos he/she has taken, with the following exceptions:

If the photographer is an employee of the company the photos are taken for, or is an employee of a company instructed to take the photos, the photographer will be acting on behalf of his/her employer, and the company the photographer works for will own the copyright.

If there is an agreement that assigns copyright to another party.
In all other cases, the photographer will retain the copyright, if the photographer has been paid for his work, the payment will be for the photographer’s time and typically an allocated number of prints. The copyright to the photos will remain with the photographer, and therefore any reproduction without permission would be an infringement of copyright.


If Bill Smith asks Peter Jones the photographer to photograph his wedding. Peter Jones will normally provide a single copy of the prints as part of the fee, but any additional prints Bill or his family and friend want must be ordered via Peter as he is the copyright owner and controls who can copy his work.

If Bill Smith engages the services of XYZ-Photos for the same job, and Peter is an employee of XYZ-Photo who instruct Peter to take the photos, XYZ-Photos will be the copyright owner and control how they are used.

On our receipts to all our clients, we have this clause written:
The Studio Loft LLP reserves the right to use at its discretion, in whole or in part, for promotional/editorial purposes and without advance notice, any and all images. Such use includes but is not limited to the web or printed advertising, press releases etc promoting/marketing The Studio Loft.

However, out of courtesy and privacy, we have always sought permission from Bloom clients whenever we want to use their photos on our printed marketing materials (brochures), website or print advertisements as these have a wider public audience. For in-studio portfolio albums, I didn't think that we needed permission thus my oversight in not informing this particular client. I also understand from fellow photographers that as long as I am not selling the photograph commercially but using it as my own portfolio for marketing purposes, this is totally acceptable.

Still, my client was furious and I felt bad to have made her feel this way as it was totally unintentional on my part. There were at least fifty other clients with a similar shot like the one I used of her which they would have readily given me permission for use in the album and I would have used any of the other photos had I known that she would react this way.

Although in the eyes of the law we did nothing wrong, I do apologise to her. I will be sending her a letter of non-disclosure to close this matter and her photographs have been removed from our portfolio since the phone call.

We now have a notice put up in our studio informing our clients of the possible usage of their photos for our promotional/editorial purposes and if they object to this, to let us know so we will not do so. I hope this clears up any unhappiness in the future and to all photographers out there, be aware of your rights and be sensitive to your client's privacy. Yet another lesson learnt for me while running the business!


Jodie said...

Quite frankly, I don't even show my semi-nude photos to my close friends 'cos I thought it's quite personal the shots taken.
I'm guessing that the customer of yours felt the same way...
So ya, I think it's good idea to verbally inform us before you use it (again it's due to the fact that it's semi-nude).
This is my feedback :)


maryann koh said...

hi jodie, yes we do get permission from our clients if we are using their nude shots for our brochures or any advertisement. thanks for your feedback.

dardar6374 said...

I think as long as your stated a clause in your receipt then you didnt really do anything wrong. many times people just take the clauses for granted.

maryann koh said...

hi dardar, yes we have that clause since 2006 but you are right, people just don't read sometimes :p

F A I T H said...

Hi Maryann
On the contrary, I'd would be very glad if my semi-nude pictures were used for your in-studio portfolio. It means I look good enough for advertising material. hahaha... Anyway, its very subjective. But its a good lesson learnt. :)

. brenda . said...

We all make mistakes but the most humane thing is to admit it, and you did.. I respect your style. Bravo! Hope this episode makes you stronger ya (=