Friday, June 18, 2010

A Copyright Primer for Photographers

Under the Copyright Act of 1976, any copyrightable work (such as a photograph) created on or after January 1, 1978, is automatically copyright-protected.  It is not necessary to formally register a photograph, although it is still an option.  Copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years, thanks, primarily, to lobbying efforts by the Disney company after the death of Walt Disney.  A photographer has exclusive rights to the use of her photograph, with two notable exceptions.
1) All copyrights are subject to “fair use.”  The term fair use can be unclear, but basically includes use as an educational tool, news commentary or parody.
2) If a photograph is a “work made for hire,” authorship and copyright belong to the employer.  But for this to apply, the photographer must either be an employee, or she must be an independent contractor who has agreed in writing that the photograph is part of a collective work (such as a book) and is a “work made for hire.”
If a photographer gives her permission, another person may create a “derivative work” that revises, elaborates or modifies the photograph to create an original work, such as a drawing of a photograph.  The new work must contain substantial changes from the original.  The new author then has a copyright to the additions, changes or new material added to the photograph, but the original photographer retains the copyright in the original photograph.
For more detailed information, or to see how copyright laws apply to works created before 1978, go to  For information about the Nevada Camera Club, go to

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