Copyright vs Printing Right

Disclaimer: This article is to provide information regarding the misconception between copyright and printing right, and help my customers understand the differences between the two.


“Will you give me the copyright to my wedding pictures?”

The term copyright is often misunderstood. Most couples ask if they will receive the copyright to their wedding images. I understand what you want is to print your wedding pictures anytime and anywhere (of course, I encourage you to invest in high quality prints). I also believe in printing your images and keeping them as a legacy to show your children and grandchildren down the road. So the right you are referring to is actually printing right. And the answer is YES!, I always give my couples printing right, which allows them to print their pictures, to post them on social media and to share them with family and friends. However, they do not get the copyright to the images.


You might ask: "I am hiring the photographer to take photos of me! Certainly in this case, I own the copyright."

You are correct if you actually "hired" the photographer. If you hire someone, you are the owner of whatever works he produces.

However, you don't technically "hire" the photographer. Because if you did, you would be employing him. You would be his employer and he is your employee. Then, you have to withhold his federal income tax, social security tax, state and local taxes, and send these payments to your employer account with the respective representatives. You would pay his disability and unemployment insurance. You have to make available vacation, medical insurance, sick pay, etc. In short, you would be required to do everything an employer would be under legal obligation to do with an employee. In return, you have the authority to tell him how you want the work to be done and you own whatever work he produces.

So in this case, instead of hiring the photographer, you actually "purchase" his services. You "commission" him to do the work for you. Thus, the photographer retains the copyright to the photos.


What are the differences between copyright and printing right?

Copyright: copyright means that you are the author and have ownership over the works you create (in this case is photographs). Whoever creates the photo automatically owns the copyright to it. If you take the photos, you own the copyright, and if a professional photographer takes the photos, they own the copyright. By law, they are the only ones who can make alterations to their work, like editing, cropping, and so on.

Thinking about it, if someone shows you an image from their wedding after they applied some terrible Instagram filters over the final image the photographer did in post processing, wouldn't that misrepresent the photographer’s brand and style that they've worked for years to build? That is why photographers won’t sell their copyright unless they get paid a considerably large amount of money to offset the damage they might receive.

Printing Right: Having printing right means you have the right to print unlimited images for personal use.

With a printing right you CAN also:

  • post them on social media

  • share them with family and friends

With a printing right you CANNOT:

  • alter, edit, or crop the images in any way

  • enter competitions for money

  • sell them


Just like with buying a song off iTunes, your sole intentions are to listen to that song on your iPod. You are not actually asking the producers to give you all rights to the songs, right? Same goes with photography. The copyright law enables the photographer to share their work with future clients, to display it on their website, to create advertising and marketing materials, and to enter photographic contests.