Wedding Photography Copyright and What It Means

A bride and groom overlooking the CN tower on the rooftop of the Park Hyatt during their wedding portraits
For many people, planning their wedding and hiring a professional wedding photographer is the first time they come in contact with wedding photography copyright laws and contracts. It’s understandable when my couples ask me about the copyright clause in their contracts and wonder what they can do with their wedding photographs.

You hire a great wedding photographer, get amazing wedding photos of your big day and can do anything you want with them, right? Well…yes and no.

There are many things attached to wedding photography copyright laws and what you think of it might be different from reality. Since a lot of my blog readers are brides-to-be, other professional photographers, aspiring talents and fans of photography as an art form, it seems like wedding photography copyright law is a good topic to cover. Copyright is often misunderstood, and I hope that this blog post will help clear things up for those of us who create photography, and for those that use it for non-commercial purposes, editorially or otherwise.

Here’s a brief photography copyright summary, so you can learn about your rights and obligations when it comes to copyright ownership of your wedding photos:

What is Copyright?

The term “Copyright” means the right to reproduce. It includes all forms of reproduction – publication, public display and other uses. The copyright laws were created to protect the intellectual property and artistic work of its creators. It applies to any artistic work, including illustration, graphic design and wedding photography as well. The copyright laws and amendments, which vary from one country to another, tell how these works may be reproduced by different people and organizations.

One who creates or possesses the work can control how it is used.

According to copyright protection laws, Canadian wedding photographers are the first owners of their work by default the moment photographs are taken. This applies to both photographs commissioned and paid for by a client, and to photographs taken for non-commercial purposes. Therefore, wedding photographers do not have to sign an agreement with their client stating they are the first owners of the copyright. The law guarantees ownership by default. 

The law is designed this way for several reasons. The photographer’s work is dependant on how their images are used and shared. For example, editing their work with that new, cool Instagram filter or not crediting a photographer when images are shared can negatively impact the photographer’s reputation. The law calls it “moral” rights.

It means that all creators hold moral rights with regards to their original work.

Moral rights include:

  • The right to associate his/her name with his/her work (aka being mentioned as a creator of the work);
  • The right to the integrity of one’s work – without the work being cropped, cut, excessively trimmed or altered.

This raises the question: As a client, can I control how my wedding photos are used and reproduced?

Yes, you can. When you’re hiring a wedding photographer to document your wedding day, you’re hiring a professional to create photographs for your personal, or “private” use. Since it is a private use, you can share and reproduce the photographs as you see fit. You can print them for your wedding album, or send them to your family and friends. You can also print Thank You Cards and post your wedding images online. You cannot, however, sell them to a wedding magazine or a photography stock company. You also cannot use them as your own promotion for your own business and give it to others to display it as an advertisement online, in a magazine, etc. At this point, it would be considered a commercial use related to marketing and public relations and it can’t be done without the creator’s authorization.

A few years ago, wedding photographers did not have any rights to their own work. Luckily, now it has changed and the original creators have a lot more freedom in terms of their ownership. New laws make it easy for wedding photographers to execute full rights to their own intellectual property, while keeping their clients and their family happy, allowing them to share and reproduce photos without limits as long as it’s not related to commerce.

For more information regarding Canadian copyright laws, please visit here