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Archive for March, 2008

Who owns the copyright in a photograph? A quick overview for the printing industry

March 12th, 2008 No Comments

Many of our clients express confusion over the issue of copyright. We are often asked to print pictures onto canvas in situations where the ownership of copyright may not be clear. This quick introduction to copyright law is an attempt to answer many of the questions we receive.

The Basics

Copyright in Australia is governed by the Copyright Act (1968). In certain cases, a range of international treaties also apply.

The two most important things to remember are:

  • Copyright applies to a photograph from the moment it is taken
  • copyright lasts for the life of the creator plus 70 years

Do I have to put the copyright symbol on my work?

Under Australian law, you automatically receive copyright protection by virtue of being the person who created the work. That protection applies even when where you have not included a copyright notice with the work.

However, including a copyright symbol or wording will make it easier for you if you ever need to take someone to court for a copyright violation. If no mark can be found on the work, the court will first require that you prove that you are the rightful creator.

Who owns the copyright for family or wedding photos?

Generally, the person who created a photograph or artistic work is the owner of copyright. However s 35(5) of the Australian Copyright act creates an exception for photographs taken after the 30th of July 1998.

If the photograph has been commissioned for a "private or domestic" purpose – the person who paid for the photograph (or client) is the owner of the copyright unless otherwise agreed.

In this case, "private and domestic purposes" includes photos of children, weddings and/or family members.

However, it is important to remember two things:

  1. If an agreement has been signed giving the photographer copyright ownership – the legislation will not apply.
  2. Where a client commissions a photographer to produce a work for "private and domestic" purposes – the photographer may still be able to prevent you from using the work in other ways (i.e. commercially)

Things to remember if you planning to pay a photographer to take a picture

  1. 1) Make sure you read any agreement carefully if you are planning on having a private photo taken. If you sign an agreement giving the photographer ownership over copyright – you will not be able to make any copies without their permission.

Things to remember for photographers:

  1. Unless you have explicitly signed an agreement with your client – you may not be legally entitled to enforce copyright restrictions if the work was for ‘private and domestic purposes.’ This may still apply where the client has not yet paid you for your work.
  2. However, even where you no longer own copyright you still have a range of ‘moral rights’ that can allow you to restrict certain uses of your artistic work.

Further resources:

The Australian Copyright Council has a great range of online fact sheets

For people wanting to make a detailed study you should examine the Copyright Act.


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