According to U.S. Copyright Law, the photographer owns the copyright, or digital files on all images shot. In paying them to shoot, you are purchasing their professional services. When you buy usage rights you lease the right to USE one or more photos for a specific purpose, and are probably purchasing a COPY of the image as well–generally in print, or digital form.

What’s important is that when you buy a photo with usage rights, you do not own the copyright–meaning, you do not have the right to use it for anything at all and for as long as you like. Hence, you need to ascertain exactly what rights you have bought, and for how long. You can however negotiate to purchase at a hirer cost unlimited usage of an image, which would allow you to use the image for any purpose for an unlimited amount of time.

A photograph is considered intellectual property. The photographer owns the copyright to the images he or she creates and has the exclusive right to license their use. Licensing agreements are specific with regard to use and, in general, should answer these three basic questions:

• Who will use the images?

• How and where will the images appear?

• How long will the images be used?

This information may be detailed in the Licensing & Rights Granted section of the estimate or in a separate licensing agreement that grants specific rights to commissioning clients. If several commissioning clients choose to share in the cost of an assignment, make certain that each party is provided with a written licensing

agreement describing them as a licensee and detailing their rights granted.

It’s important that you and your photographer agree on the scope of a license before photography has begun. Should your marketing plans change, be sure to discuss them with your photographer. If you plan to share photographs with third parties who have not been involved in the commissioned assignment, permission must be obtained in writing from the photographer.

The right to use images cannot be transferred by anyone without the written consent of the copyright holder. If you’ve received photographs without written permission for their use, it is your responsibility to secure licensing rights before using them. As a rule of thumb, a good way to avoid any misunderstandings is to contact the photographer before passing along photographs. You should also advise the party receiving the images to contact the photographer directly to secure a license granting permission for their use. Any copying, reproduction, distribution, public display or creation of derivative works of images without specific permission from the photographer is a violation of Federal copyright law.

Simply having physical possession of photographs, slides, prints, transparencies or digital files does not grant the right to use them.