Do I own the copyright for my wedding photos?

Quite often I get a call from someone who is getting married asking me about the copyright to their future wedding photos. Do I own the copyright to my wedding photos?

This question usually comes down to four things:

  1. Will I be able to print my own wedding photos?
  2. Will there be a watermark on my own wedding photos?
  3. Will I physically have my photos, or will I have to come get them from you in the future?
  4. Will I, or a friend, be able to use the images to promote their own business?

These are all very reasonable and legitimate questions, and I completely understand why people are sometimes a little concerned about copyright.

Thankfully, these concerns and questions are all based around some very straightforward misunderstandings.

So, I’d like to simply clear things up for you and make life a little easier!

I should note I am referring only to UK Copyright, Designs, Patents Act 1988 [1], [2], so if this isn’t what you’re looking for, I’d recommend consulting the legislation native to your country.

Firstly, let’s take a look at how copyright really works.

Copyright is an automatic right which is triggered when the work is created. That means, as soon as the photo is taken, the copyright is assigned to the person or company who has created the image. Copyright is a wonderful thing as it promotes creativity by giving people automatic legal ownership. This means creative people have the right to display, publish, advertise & sell their work.

So you can probably imagine, if couples ask a wedding photographer Can I have the copyright? it’s as if they’re being asked to forfeit the right to work and to use that work afterwards. Understandably, not many wedding photographers are going to want to do that.

But I’m paying you to take photos of me! Surely I own the copyright?!

Much in the same way that if you take a photo of Big Ben, you own the copyright to that photo as soon as you pull the trigger. But, unfortunately, you don’t own Big Ben.

And a wedding photographer doesn’t own you, or a likeness to you, just the photo he created.

What you are doing is commissioning and purchasing the services of that photographer – who is still working for them self or their company. So, legally, they will automatically own the copyright to the work created.

Hang on! There is a lot of good news!

You don’t need to own the copyright to print your own wedding photos.

Most wedding photographers will include digital files for personal use (eg: printing, social media).

Your wedding photos probably won’t have watermarks.

You need to ask your photographer, but unless you’re hiring Jill & Tim Photographic Est. 1982, or Uncle Bob who got a brand new camera for Christmas, I see it as extremely unlikely anyone would give you digital files with watermarks on. But, you get what you pay for – so always check.

What about using my wedding photos to promote a friends business?

To use a copyrighted work (photo) for commercial gain (advertisement or promotion of a business) would be an infringement and could be prosecuted under the fullest extent of the law. You must inquire with the copyright owner.

So you don’t have to try and get the copyrights to your wedding photos. Just make sure you have the the ability & approval to print whenever you wish.