Copyright and Wedding Photography

Copyright can be quite confusing and mis-interpreted.  Copyright is very important to photographers, but it is also useful to understand what it means in the context of wedding photography for couple getting married.

Below is my understanding and application of copyright (I am not in the legal profession), as a freelance wedding photographer.

What is Copyright?

Copyright is legal ownership, of in this case specifically, digital wedding photographs.  Copyright applies to many things such as music, films, computer programmes etc.  It covers a multitude of provisions, so is more prevalent than we may think it is, which is why understanding it is important.

Interesting FACT: copyright ownership of photography expires after 70 years of the creator’s death

Why is copyright so important?

In the context of wedding businesses, copyright is there to protect the creator’s work and the presentation of their work.  Your work has a value and so is classed as an asset and it protects you if someone infringes your copyright, you have legal recourse.

A copyright notice for photography has been published by the Intellectual Property Office, which explains specific areas of copyright and is intended for small businesses and individuals.  It can be found here.

How does copyright apply to wedding photography?

If you’ve read the above, you will know that copyright for photographs taken at a wedding by the official photographer, are owned by the photographer and not by the couple getting married.

Sound unfair?  It is your wedding after all, and you are paying for the services of the photographer.  So why don’t you get copyright?

The photographer has legal ownership of the images because they created them.  If a photographer gave you copyright, it wouldn’t be possible for them to copy the photos, show them on their website or social media accounts, or use for commercial purposes, without an agreement from you.  Licencing them to you for sharing etc. mitigates the need to give you copyright.

Purchasing copyright

If you would like copyright regardless, then a photographer will rightfully charge a considerable amount more to transfer ownership to you.  This does happen and I have seen it apply to “A” listers that want privacy and are willing to pay the extra amount for copyright ownership.

I cannot afford to purchase copyright but want some images not to be shown for legal and safety concerns

There are times that legal and safety concerns mean that images of children in care for example, should not be shown in public.  This is a perfectly sensible request and so you should speak to your photographer and advise them as such.  Photographers are going to respect your wishes.  Do bear in mind though, that in the age of social media and smartphones, if you do find yourself in a situation where safety is a concern, that you communicate with your guests with the appropriate messaging.

So can I print and share my wedding images or am I not allowed to?  Can I only purchase printed copies through the photographer?

You won’t have any issue copying and sharing your digital images online.  The vast majority of wedding photographers (if not all of them), will allow you to share and print images.  They will either give you access to a gallery online where you can download high resolution images or present them to you on a USB stick.  This should ideally be captured in the photography contract you have signed with your photographer.

Important note: Agree and sign a contract!  It will specifically lay out the photography services and also cover copyright questions you may have.  I’ve not seen it happen but if you don’t have a contract, it doesn’t protect you or the photographer.  It’s good practice.

Photographers generally won’t allow you to use the images for commercial purposes such as selling them for a fee to a magazine.  If you are approached, you need to refer the enquirer to the photographer.  If you do use them for commercial benefit, you are infringing copyright.

How do I know that the photographer will use my images in a responsible manner?

The wedding photographer may want to use your images for advertising or commercial purposes, but they are not going to do so without your permission.  If you have a wedding contract with the photographer, it will most likely be covered under a heading such as “model release”.  Photographers are a reasonable bunch and it’s in their interests to work with you, not against you.

Running a business and getting more clients, usually means sharing your work to date, with prospective clients and it’s most likely how you secured the photographer for you big day – by looking at previous images of their wedding photography.

If in doubt, talk to your photographer.

Additional resources

The Copyright Act is part of the Copyright, Designs and Patent Act 1988 and can be found

Copyright Notice guidance for digital images, photographs and the internet can be found