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Legal Guide For Running A Photography Businesses

An image is worth a thousand words. That’s why images help sell products, preserve memories and connect with people. Professional photography businesses have survived the iPhone and the closing of camera shops and are leveraging social media to promote their talent without giving away the goods.

Many professional photographs are thriving in the wedding photography space. Others are capturing perfect headshots. Some are working with or becoming branding experts so they can deliver a fuller service helping entrepreneurs discover and develop their brand ‘look’. Then there are the product photographers, setting up compositions and placing products in the best light to catch the attention of consumers in print, on social media and on online shopping sites. Whether you’re a specialist photographer or whether your work is varied, there are a few legal must-knows, considerations and documents that every professional photography business owner should know.

You may be just starting out or you may be dropping in to check you’re doing everything you need to, to protect your business. Allow me to take you through my legal guide for running a photography business:

Intellectual Property

This is the obvious place to begin because it’s the most important thing you own. In the UK, any work created is automatically owned by the creator. This essentially means, no one can use your photographs without your permission. In some other countries, such as the USA, copyright is a process but in the UK you do not need to make any applications or register your work at all. However, it may be useful to have some way of proving the work belongs to you.

As a photographer, you may keep original time-stamped downloads of photographs uploaded from your camera to a computer. It is important to keep archives of these digital records because if one of your photographs is used without your permission, even 20 years after it was taken, it’s still copyright infringement and you can still take legal action.

Photographs are how you make your money, so you must ensure these cannot and do not get used without a proper contract in place, your permission (in the form of a licence) and payment for your services and art. That being, read on to find out how photographers can be protected from copyright infringement as well as how to make money from your intellectual property. 

Using Watermarks And Copyright Symbols

Using the copyright symbol © or a watermark is not necessary legally. However, many artists and photographers choose to do this, especially on social media and selling websites where it can be easy to save or screenshot the image.

Whilst the copyright symbol or a watermark does not enhance the legal ownership you have over your work, it can make it more difficult for others to use.  It acts as a notification to the world that you own the photograph. Having said this, AI may develop to a point where removing watermarks is far simpler and requires no human editing skills. That being, watermarks and the copyright symbol do serve to remind the public that the work is protected and cannot be used.

Copyright infringement can be deliberate but it’s important to note also that many people who repost an image on social media, use an online picture in their personal blog posts or use an image in some other way that is not directly for profit, may do so without knowing they are infringing on copyright. Stating that the work is not to be used without your permission or using the copyright symbol can draw attention to this and therefore prevent your images from being used, especially unintentionally.

Licensing Copyright As A Photography Business

Photography businesses will need to let clients use the photographs they have requested. This is how you make money. There are two ways you can do this. The most common is to licence the copyright of the photographs. You may choose to do this for all pictures taken or restrict this to an agreed selection, chosen by the client.

When you licence your copyright you retain ownership. This means that you can use the photographs and that the licensee may not resell the photographs or use them in any way that infringes the agreement. It is possible to set a limit on how long and where photographs can be used. Some photographers further protect their work from being used for specific causes, such as in political campaigns.

The terms by which you licence your work should be included prominently in your terms and conditions/terms of business or in a separate contract. Some photography businesses prefer to have a separate intellectual property agreement since this is such an integral part of their business. IP clauses and contracts should always be clear, understandable and avoid legal jargon and ambiguity so that both parties understand the arrangement. Furthermore, they must be reasonable because any contract, even one agreed to in good faith by the client, can be dismissed in a legal battle if deemed unreasonable or ambiguous.

It’s also important to stress that this agreement must be signed and dated by both parties to make it binding.

Alternatively, you may wish to transfer the copyright to your images permanently to the client. Transfer of ownership is not so common but can be actioned and, in some cases, it can make running a photography business simpler, so long as the fee is reasonable and takes into account the relinquishing of ownership over your images. It is also worth considering that you may not be able to use your images to promote your services once copyright ownership has been transferred to another person or business. 

Need help with licensing and assignment rights? I can advise you and provide you with a bespoke IP contract to protect your work and ensure the agreements you make with your clients serve your business and your talent. Please get in touch to find out more about my intellectual property legal services. Alternatively, if you’re setting up your business and need other guidance and documents, then my Start-Up Package which includes business terms, may be most suitable.

For more on business terms, please see my blog ‘Terms Of Business For Creative Freelancers - What You Need To Include

Photography Business Insurance Matters

Insurance is not a legal requirement for photography businesses. However, it is advisable to have it.

Professional indemnity insurance is recommended for many self-employed people as this is what is used should a client make a claim based on being dissatisfied with your work. It should cover your legal fees and compensation, should you be made to pay any.

Public liability insurance may also be considered. This covers you should someone be injured or their property be damaged in the course of your work. For instance, if a guest at a wedding you are photographing should trip over one of your leads, or be injured by your photography equipment, then they may be entitled to a claim. 

Aside from the above, you may also want to ensure your equipment.

Compare insurance providers and types before deciding what it is you need and make sure you read and understand all the terms and conditions of the policy.

Other Legal Responsibilities When Running A Photography Business

As a photography business, you will be collecting basic personal information on your clients and therefore, you will need to know about data protection and ensure you are compliant. You can find more about this in my Q&A Series On Data Protection.

Although insurance is not a legal requirement, Employers liability insurance is. Therefore, even if you are employing even just one person, you’ll need employer liability to cover you should any staff come to harm in the course of their employment.

Image consent is also important for a photography business to know about to avoid complaints or legal issues resulting from unconsented image use. You are not required to get consent for photographs intended for personal use, meaning if you shoot a wedding you won’t have to get every guest to sign consent forms. Consent forms are needed, however, when images are used for commercial purposes. For example, if you are photographing people wearing a company’s clothing and the company will be using these images in marketing and advertising materials, online or in print, you’ll need every person featured in the images to sign image consent forms. Even if they are not professional models.

Although image consent is typically granted before a photography shoot. You can request image consent after a photograph is taken. For example, if an image of someone is taken and then it is later desired to use this image for promotional purposes, then you will need to get the subject’s consent before using it.

Consent may be part of another contract or be a separate document.

Lastly, you’ll also need to adhere to other legal and compliance requirements that other self-employed people and business owners do. Such as registering your business and registering for self-assessment to pay tax.

You can find out more about legally setting up a business in my Legal Checklist For Launching A Start-Up In The UK.


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