Originally published July 7, 2017 in Rangefinder Magazine.
Let’s say you are a photographer, and you get hired to photograph a wedding at a local venue - but the venue asks you to sign an agreement before you can photograph there. This agreement says two things: one, that you are giving the venue all rights to all pictures you take there, and two, that the venue is not giving you anything in exchange.
Some of our clients have faced a similar situation. The agreement they were given said that the photographer would relinquish “any reasonable expectation of privacy or confidentiality” associated with the pictures they take, as well as “all rights to ALL photographs/video that [the venue] acquired from the couple or found on social media.” The agreement also said that the photographer “will not receive financial compensation of any type,” and that the publication of the photographs “confers no right of ownership or royalties whatsoever.” In other words, merely because the photographer is taking pictures inside a venue, that venue wants to be able to use any picture taken, in any way it wants.
That, gentle reader, is called “free advertising.” It is also asking the photographer to give up a right for free, which she could otherwise sell for money. The photographer controls her copyright, and would normally only give a license in exchange for cold, hard cash, but the venue may imply that she can’t photograph the event at all unless she signs the release. Let’s pick this apart.
The first question is, can the venue stop me from taking pictures there? And the answer is, unfortunately, yes. If any business or other private property asks you to stop taking pictures - including “no photography” signs - you have to comply, or the owner can have you removed from the premises.
The second question of course is, would a venue actually kick me out for not signing the release? And the answer to that is, probably not - because it would upset the real client: the person who hired both the photographer and the venue in the first place. Imagine you rented out a restaurant for your wedding, and the restaurant wouldn’t let the photographer in. What’s more, if the real client’s contract with the venue states that a photographer will be allowed, then a release like this is a trick, because the venue has given up its right to eject a photographer in its contract with the client.
Situations like this can be nuanced, so don’t assume you’re getting ripped off if a venue asks you to sign a similar release. For example, a small restaurant that occasionally hosts events may want to repost pictures of the event on its social media pages. This is mostly harmless, and a small restaurant may struggle to pay a photographer licensing fees, and so either the restaurant has to make itself unlikable by ejecting the photographer, or it has to simply refrain from using any pictures it finds. In cases like that, a photographer may feel okay being generous. On the other hand, a large and organized corporate venue may have a complex and expensive advertising presence that will use your pictures for years to come, and so outright giving them the right to your copyrights may be more of a rip-off.
Think twice before signing a release like the one above, and don’t be afraid to hand it back to the venue and say you will sign for a price. As it is, the “price” the venue is paying for the right to use your copyrights is that it gives up its own right to eject you - but don’t be afraid to say that isn’t enough. Your copyrights are valuable, and you have the right to request valuable consideration in exchange for the right to use them.
It has also been noted that a venue will bypass the photographer entirely and go straight to the client to obtain the images. This is why it is important to have a contract between the photographer and the photographer’s client that limits the client’s use of the images, and strictly prevents the client from passing on the images to the venue. If, however, the venue does get a hold of these images, the photographer’s client could be liable to the photographer for breach of contract, and the venue liable for copyright infringement - even if the venue thought they obtained the images in good faith. The venue, regardless whether they are aware or not, can only get permission to use the photos from the photographer herself, not the photographer’s client.