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Can I Take your Picture?

By Chris Ogden

As part of the Jewel of Yorkshire website we asked teachers to provide us with publicity photos to go with their profiles. Recently we had an email from the photographer who had taken one of these. He claimed to own the copyright and demanded payment for the use we were making of the image. This made me research the issue and I thought it useful to share my discoveries with folk who may run foul of the rules. It seems that my mystery photographer was probably in the right, though we had used it in good faith and at the time of writing we are still checking up on the circumstances of the particular photo.

If someone takes a photo of you the copyright is held by the photographer (unless they are being employed by another party to take photos, in which case it belongs to the employer). Even if you are paying the photographer to take a series of shots for you, that contract will normally only buy their time and the package of prints you get from them. It does not allow you to pass on the photos to other people to duplicate and, for instance, put up on the web.

You can get around this by asking your photographer to sign an agreement with you to pass the copyright of the images to you. This may be a wise move if you are relying on these pictures to promote yourself, though I guess a professional photographer may then want to charge you more.

The next question of course is how can you control the use a photographer makes of your image? How can you guard against your image being used in ways you don't want? You do have some rights to control what the copyright owner does with your image, but the rules on this are less clear cut. You may stand a chance to stop an image being used in an offensive way, but you have no control over general usage. Ideally, if the photographer intends to sell the photo they have taken of you or distribute it in some other way they should ask you to sign a 'model release form' - this effectively signs away your rights to complain about what is done with your image at a latter date.

Since more and more photos are appearing on the web, and people are getting more litigious it is a point worth considering. It is also a point worth thinking about at haflas and performances. All those enthusiastic snappers are each capturing an image that belongs - not to the dancers - but to the photographer with nothing to prevent them using the images in whatever way they choose. Probably it's harmless where it is friends snapping friends. But from various entries on the internet, the chap who raised this issue looks to be in the habit of attending dance events in the London area (not just bellydance) and taking photos which he then intends to use in a commercial context... Not the sort of person I would want at any event of my own. More information on copyright issues can be found on www.copyrightservice.co.uk.

A Professional Photographer's Take on Copyright Issues
Jason Smalley (www.jasonsmalley.com)

Back in the 1980's major changes were made to the copyright laws, giving photographers and artists the right to retain the copyright of work they create. This was a hard won fight and broadly welcomed by creatives in all professions. Although Chris suggests asking the photographer to sign over copyright, this would be considered deeply unethical by most shooters and there are better, amicable solutions. Interestingly Robbie Williams is now asking photographers to sign over copyright of all pictures taken at his concerts. The result is that no professionals will now shoot at his gigs!

Firstly, lets consider the rights that a photographer automatically has to the works that he has created. He can enter the images in competitions, lodge them with agencies to sell on his behalf, create and sell prints of the shots, publish the shots editorially in any media, whether online or in print and pass the images onto any third party. All of this can be done without a model release, internationally. The only way a photographer could run into trouble is if the image is used to endorse a product without the agreement of the subject. This is when a model release is needed.

As the photographer who has made the image in the first place, this is exactly how it should be. Even if he (or she) has been paid to shoot a hafla nothing changes. Paying a photographer only buys the rights agreed for a set amount of time, and not blanket rights to use the shots for any purpose.

Rather than try to fight against this, the best option, and the one used universally, is to ask that, in return for permission to photograph, the photographer passes an agreed number of images to the organiser that can be used for personal publicity.