Last year you hired a photographer to produce images for your annual report. Last week you called that same photographer and told him you wanted to use those very same images on your web site. Today you’re beside yourself because the photographer wants $300 per image that you plan to incorporate on your web site. Why? How many times do you have to pay for YOUR images?
The truth of the matter is, they’re not your images. The Copyright Act of 1976 made clear that photographers are the copyright owners of their images from the moment they create the image. This includes any image that you may create too (just by clicking the shutter button). This means that you just might have to pay every time you want to use images that you’ve paid for once or twice already. Wow! What now?
Let’s take a peek at The Copyright Act of 1976. Section 201, ownership of copyright states:
(a) Initial Ownership. Copyright in a work protected under this title vests initially in the author or authors of the work. The authors of a joint work are co-owners of copyright in the work.
How do you solve the problem of having to pay every time you want to use, what you originally felt, were your images to begin with? Section 201, ownership of copyright states: (b) Works Made for Hire. In the case of a work made for hire, the employer or other person for whom the work was prepared is the author for purposes of this title, and, unless the parties have expressly agreed otherwise in a written instrument signed by them, owns all of the rights comprised in the copyright.
Basically, what this is telling you, is that if you hire an outside contractor to produce still or motion pictures for your usage, even text, music, etc., and you had signed a Work For Hire agreement prior to the start of the project, you will assume ownership of the copyrights and negatives, films, digital files, etc. Better still, if the work was prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment, no signed agreement is necessary. It’s automatically the employer’s property. For all work created on or after January 1, 1978, the copyright endures for a term of seventy-five years from the year of its first publication, or a term of one hundred years from the year of its creation, whichever expires first.
What if it’s too late? The job is now finished and you had no Work For Hire arrangement? This is where Transfer of Ownership can kick in. The ownership of a copyright may be transferred in whole or in part by any means of conveyance or by operation of law, and may be bequeathed by will or passed as personal property by the applicable laws of intestate succession.
My advice to you when hiring independent contractors to create images, motion pictures, music, etc. for you or your company, is to consider a signed Work For Hire arrangement, a transfer of copyright agreement, or any other number of copyright usage agreements that can make the difference between you paying once, twice, or paying many times over again for images created specifically for you in the first place. Fire up your internet browser, log onto your favorite search engine, and search for Work For Hire contracts and Copyright information. There is plenty of material on the internet to assist you in writing agreements and obtaining more specific copyright information. However, don’t let this information take the place of an experienced copyright attorney, which I recommend you consult as well.