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Okay, so copyright vs. usage rights for wedding photography. I get this question a lot, and it’s definitely important to know the difference between copyright and usage rights when you hire a photographer. This way, you’ll know what you’re allowed and not allowed to do with your photos.

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Copyright refers to a type of intellectual property that allows the holder (me) the exclusive right to do certain things with a creative work. Copyright doesn’t protect ideas but rather a particular expression of an idea. I own the copyright of the image simply by the act of taking the photo, just as a composer would own the copyright over a piece of music they created and an author over a novel they wrote.

Copyright holders are the only entities who are allowed to make copies and distribute the work they created. They also have control over any derivative works (things like adaptations of the work into another artistic form, re-editing, adding filters, etc.).

There are a few exceptions to this exclusive right, however – depending on the jurisdiction. For example, copyright law in the United States allows people to take someone’s creative work in order to critique, comment upon, or parody (please don’t) it. This is called the “fair use.” In British/Commonwealth jurisdictions (because I’m sure this is entirely relevant to you), the exception is called “fair dealing.”

Usage Rights

Copyright holders can grant licenses to others, allowing those individuals or entities to reproduce, distribute, and/or any other action the two parties agree upon. The owner of the copyright can either give someone else exclusive usage rights – meaning only that person can exercise those rights – or let any number of licensees copy/distribute the created work.

Image Usage Rights

As the name implies, image usage rights relate to the licensing of photographic, digital, or artistic images. When a wedding photographer (me, again) captures the a photo, they automatically own the copyright over the images they shoot – even though the pictures are of you. Most photographers these days include high-resolution versions of the photos, which you are free to print, post on social media, or etc. However, there are some limits, as you aren’t allowed to use use the images commercially (make money off them, or modify them).  The contract will clearly spell out what usage rights you are getting and what they entail.

And while I hypothetically could use your photos for a billboard, I won’t. Have you ever a photographer use billboard advertising ? Besides, more targeted marketing works better : )

I’m happy to negotiate the contract language to a minimal extent. For example, a prior wedding client was a doctor and didn’t want me to use his name online but he was fine with me using the images. I modified the Image Usage section of the contract to reflect that.

One reason photographers want to keep the copyright over their work is so they can use images from clients’ weddings for their portfolio. Some photographers will sell you the copyright over the images they’ve, but you can expect to pay a lot more (thousands of dollars more). In that case, the photographer (that’d be me again) would no longer be entitled to use the photos in any capacity (and that would make me very sad).

In summary, yes (with very few exceptions)!


I’m Chris and I’m a Washington DC wedding photographer. My mission is to capture bold, modern, and distinctive photos for unconventional couples. I want to make you look epic, awesome, amazing, beautiful, and dapper – all the things you like and none of the things you don’t. Most importantly, I want to capture what makes you you.

If this sounds like you and your partner, I’d love to chat! Please reach out to me regarding availably and pricing. You can also e-mail me at chris@chrisferenzi.com.

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