*I’m not a legal professional nor this is legal advice* Take the following with a grain of salt, the following are based in US copyright laws.

A lot of photographers work very differently. Some commercial freelance photographers, especially the non-professional photographers, do not charge for licensing or copyright usage. And some, especially the professional photographers, charge for using their intellectual property (IP), aka copyrighted images, of their work.

How and when a copyright is initially created and start some protection?

Each shutter (time when the button is hit on the camera) is a creation of a copyrighted image from the person whom owns that camera (in some cases debatable where its held by another person may have a case to fight for copyright even if they do not own the camera). In the US there are basically 2 different types of copyrights, 1 that is registered with the US copyright office and another that isn’t. Both have very different protections, and obviously the one that is registered has a lot more protection of the cases there are any infringements.

The Rights…

Now I’m not teaching what copyright or IP means here entirely… But I am saying when hiring a professional photographer in general just keep in mind they own the copyright in full. Of course with restrictions, such as if I were to take a photograph of a person whom is not a public figure or in public office and the photograph was not taken on private property (which I was given permission to be on and photograph anyone from) I am allowed to photograph this person and even profit commercially without any model release. And all of this varies county by country, but this is generally of course in the US.

Commercial or even non-commercial, if you hire a photographer that photographer owns the rights to all of the images, they may not be allowed to legally use it for commercial purposes, unless they mention you releasing all of your rights and anyone being at the event (for event photography, like private parties, etc.) releases their rights (some exceptions in certain situations by certain districts and judges to fine art commercial use). Generally photographers will include this release into their terms of service agreement. Now a vast majority of non-commercial photographer’s do “include rights” (or include a form of limited rights like print rights or digital rights, etc.) which generally seems like they are giving up their rights as well but generally its just allowing you as the client to have the same equal rights as they do, that’s it. And in other cases such as myself I prefer to not give the rights to ensure I have full quality control over any images I create and only high quality prints are out in the world with my permission.

Can a copyright have a dollar value?

I’m not sure if it can be priced fairly for all parties involved but I myself go off of industry standard to start off at $1000 to purchase/transfer my own copyrights (of each photo). I wouldn’t ever go any lower unless its in bulk copyright purchases/transfers. But that’s how much I would start at only from an assignment. As for stock copyright’s value could easily be at any dollar amount dependent on the supply and demand for that copyright and potential future supply/demand, from $1000 to easily $1 million! Or even if a photographer just doesn’t want to really sell a copyrighted image unless its for a very high number they will price it very high. Higher than most of their collection to intentionally put off most potential art buyers.

So, as you can see a copyright is very valuable, even when low balling a price tag on them. A vast majority of individuals will think much less value for copyrights which is understandable because they never think it’s a LIFE TIME term of usage, an unlimited usage, and even licensing out to other individuals/companies (resale). This is why most professional photographers that require compensation for copyrights they offer licensing contracts.


Licensing images are basically a rental/lease of time and specific usage restrictions to a copyright, either exclusively used or non-exclusively used. To using it for 6 months specifically for all (or even very specific) social media websites to 3 years for print advertising to just 1 full page ad in the newspaper (known as 1 time use). This isn’t cheap as people may assume as well, but it is a lot less expensive than purchasing an entire copyright.

Please keep in mind of your needs before getting a license or purchasing a copyright. Most of the time a company never needs a photo more than 1-3 years max. Rarely most companies ever need more, depending the type of company they are and what industries they are in, as well what type of image it is. People images where its corporate headshots, no point in keeping it more than 3 years because people change as well come and go from the company, so keep the images up-to-date yearly or every few years to keep consistency in company employees.

Licensing for products photos, depending the type of product shots, generic white background product shots can last forever, but advertising campaign type of shots may lose out its freshness and re-usability in a year, again depending the product and industry.

*I’m not a legal professional nor this is legal advice*

Next post in this blog series 12/11/15: Teaming up with a Photographer

Future Topics on the series.

  • Choosing a type of photography to help tell your branding story and sending your campaign message concisely.