Whilst working on commission for an editorial client you realise that you have taken photographs that would have long term use.  How would you negotiate with your client to retain copyright of the pictures and the option of selling them to another magazine?

 Copyright is essentially the means by which a photographer can protect their photographs against unauthorised copying by permitting or restricting use of their photographs. The laws implemented to define these actions are laid out in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

Whilst Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states “ Everyone has the right to freely participate in the culture of the community to enjoy the arts and to share in the scientific advancement and its benefits.”[1] It also goes on to state, “Everyone has the right to protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which they are author.” [2] The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 works as a tool to legally reinforce these human rights if they are breached or in need of protection.

When taking photographs that may have long term use for a client, the photographer may choose to transfer the ownership of copyright, in other words, sell their free hold on those images. This is known as assignment and is normally done through written contract. In this case the photographer should be aware they will have no further control over their work (other than moral rights) and there would be the possibility of loosing any further ability to earn from these images.

In the case of trying to retain copyright for future use, the photographer may choose to license the reproduction of their work. This is a method that is often preferred as it permits use without transferring copyright. A license can be negotiated with a client to use images for an agreed period of time or specific purpose in exchange for payment, this in turn allows the photographer to maintain the copyright of their images for future use, and also re negotiate terms once the license period has expired if the client still wishes to use them.

“An assignment will often appear as part of the contractual terms which are issued to the photographer before a job is done. These terms are to be found on the paperwork received from the client, often in small print on the reverse of the client’s written order form.” [3] With clients often trying to obtain assignment it is extremely curtail for photographers to fully read any contractual paper work and negotiate terms they are not happy with.


[1] United Nations – (2009) – (Universal Declaration Of Human Rights) – Article 27

[2] United Nations – (2009) – (Universal Declaration Of Human Rights) – Article 27

[3] Gwen Thomas & Janet Ibbotson – Beyond The Lens – 2003 – London – The Association of Photographers Limited – Unknown – Page 37