Photographers Guide to UK Copyright Law

Being a beginner photographer I was wondering about photographic copyrights, particularly with regards to portraiture work. Anyway, I stumbled upon this fantastic article explaining copyrights – thought it may prove useful to others. I shall be adding an article about other legalities of photography that I have found tomorrow. In the meantime I hopr you find the following useful:

CREDIT: Article was lifted from to whom the copyright belongs –

A Guide to UK Photographic Copyright

by Will Burrard-Lucas

Will BL Photography

I recently started selling some of my photographs and soon realised that I needed a more thorough understanding of UK Photographic Copyright Law. It is important that you understand the key aspects of copyright law to ensure that you don’t inadvertently loose rights to your photographs that you want to keep! I have read around the subject a little bit and I thought I would share my findings with PhotoGalaxy’s members. This is not intended to be an exhaustive guide to UK Photographic Copyright Law, it is just my take on what I think are some of the most significant aspects. Also note that copyright law may be slightly different in other countries.


First of all, copyright is “a property vested in works which authors have created”. In this case the photographer is the author. Copyright (1) protects against unautorised reproduction of your photographs, (2) entitles the copyright owner to economic benefit and (3) seeks a fair balance between the authors and users of protected materials. The good news is photographers automatically own the copyright in any work that they have created; you do not need to register it, declare it, or anything else. It is possible to transfer all or certain copyrights to another party.

Employed Photographers

The situation is slightly different for employed photographers. Employed photographers do not own copyright in work created “in the course of their employment” unless they have an agreement to the contrary. You can consider yourself employed if your employer pays PAYE and National Insurance. Freelance work does not constitute being employed. You should always discuss ownership of copyright before undertaking an assignment to ensure that both you and your employer understand the score.

Duration of Copyright

The duration of copyright in a photograph taken in an EU country or by an EU photographer is 70 years from the end of the year in which the author dies. This applies to work created after 1st August 1989 – different terms apply to photographs taken before this date.

Moral Rights

Moral rights are less well known than copyrights but equally important. The main difference is that moral rights remain with the author regardless of what happens to the copyrights. Moral rights include, (1) the right not to have your work subject to derogatory treatment, (2) the right to be identified as the author of your work, (3) the right of privacy for photographs commissioned for private purposes. This last right belongs to the client, for example someone who commissioned a photographer to take private photographs at a wedding.

Paternity Right

The moral right ‘to be identified as the author of your work’, also know as your paternity right, entitles you to a reasonably prominent credit whenever your work is commercially published or exhibited. However, this is not an automatic right and must be asserted in writing when you grant permission for your work to be used. If you assert this right when you assign copyright to someone else, you can enforce this right against anyone else to whom the copyright is subsequently assigned.


“Ignorance of the law is no excuse for failure to obey”! Infringement of your copyright or moral rights is breaking the law. Offenses can also include possession of an infringing item in the course of business and copying a photograph for connivence so that the photographer does not need to be contacted every time it a copy of the image is required.

UK law allows up to 6 years for you to seek legal remedy for an infringement. If you suspect an infringement has occurred you should seek advice immediately from a legal advisor or the British Photographers’ Liaison Committee; if you attempt to pursue the matter on your own you could weaken your position.

Permitted Uses

Fair dealing or fair practice refers to situations when copying of protected material is permitted without the need to obtain permission from the rights owner. Copies of your image may be made for: (1) individual research / private study, (2) criticism / review of the photograph itself provided accreditation is included, (3) educational use (although there are strict rules governing how copies may be made), (4) libraries / archives / museums may copy your work to facilitate individual private study or to replace an object in their permanent collection that has been lost, damaged or destroyed, (5) advertising the work for sale, (6) incidental inclusion (for example if your photograph was accidentally captured in another photograph), (7) public administration such as for evidence in court.

That concludes my brief overview of the fundamentals of UK Photographic Copyright. I stress again that this article is for general guidance only and is by no means exhaustive. I have not said much about trading under UK Photographic Legislation or the everyday implications of copyright law for the average photographer… I will save all this for a second article!

This summary was compiled predominately with the reference to an excellent guide called “The ABCD of UK Photographic Copyright”, published the British Photographers’ Liaison Committee. I would recommend this booklet to anyone who is looking for a more in-depth guide to UK Photographic Copyright.

Will Burrard-Lucas