Copyright Laws for Photos

By David Ingram
Copyright protection, photographers
film-camera on camera-bag image by Andrii Oleksiienko from

Copyright laws for photos are designed to grant the original creator of photographic works a series of exclusive rights pertaining to the commercial benefit derived from their creation. Title 17 of the United States Code outlines copyright laws in full.

Exclusive Rights

Owning a photo copyright will ascribe to you four exclusive rights pertaining to your original photographic work, according to You will have the exclusive right to make copies of your work for commercial purposes and to engage in any sale, rental or lease of the protected work. You are granted the exclusive right to create new works derivative of the original, such as a continuing series or altered reprint, and to display the work in public for any reason.

As a copyright holder, you also have the exclusive right to license your creation under any terms, allowing another party to commercially benefit from your work.

Institutional Ownership

Copyright laws for photos specify that the author, or creator, of the original work retains ownership of the copyright in most circumstances. It is possible for an individual, or business, other than the photographer to hold ownership, in cases in which the photographer is an employee of the other party according to payroll tax laws and the photograph was specifically commissioned by the employer.

Joint Ownership

It is possible under the law to hold a copyright jointly with one or more additional original authors, or even with a commissioning third party. In order to qualify for joint ownership, it must be expressly proven that all applicants for joint ownership intended to enter into a joint ownership agreement at the time the work was produced. If you wish to own a copyright jointly, sign a written contract with all parties before the work begins in order to avoid costly litigation in the future.

Joint owners can exercise their exclusive rights independent of each other in most cases; joint participation is only required for entering into licensing agreements. Any of the joint owners have the right to sell their interest in the work to any party at any time.

Copyright Notation

According to, as of 1989 it is no longer legally mandatory to display copyright notation on protected works. Any photographic image found on the Internet or other public places should be assumed to be copyright protected, as the law does not provide immunity from copyright infringement litigation based on the fact that the infringer was unaware of the work's protected status.

About the Author

David Ingram has written for multiple publications since 2009, including "The Houston Chronicle" and online at As a small-business owner, Ingram regularly confronts modern issues in management, marketing, finance and business law. He has earned a Bachelor of Arts in management from Walsh University.