When photographs are created by professional photographers and studios, the creator of the photographs retains the copyright. On occasion, the person who paid to have the photos created may want to use the photos for products not offered by the photographer or studio. This is when copyright permission or a copyright release must be obtained. Photo labs can't legally reproduce copyrighted images without the photographer's consent.
Contact the photographer or studio where the photographs were created. Know which images you want to obtain releases for. The prints or digital files that you have as proofs may be numbered or labeled in some way for the photographer to reference them on her archiving system.
Tell the photographer what you'd like to do with the photograph before asking for a copyright release. She may offer the service, and can take care of it for you for a set fee. If she doesn't offer the service you want--such as making greeting cards, a purse or unity candle with the images--ask for a copyright release form or copyright permission statement.
Prepare to pay for a copyright release. Most photographers don't allow their customers to reproduce their images for no charge, because this is taking potential sales away from the studio. Expect to pay from $25 per image for portrait work to over $100 per image for corporate and marketing applications.
Ask for an original copy of the copyright permission form with an original signature in ink. Often, faxed or emailed copyright forms will not be accepted by photography labs that produce novelty and gift items from photos. Phone calls from the photographer usually aren't accepted, either.
Buy a print copy of the image(s) for which you are obtaining the copyright release form. Use the print to make the items listed on the release form. Some photographers will include a print with the form; many don't. Ask about this when obtaining the release form.
Tips & Warnings
- Some photography studios won't release their images under any circumstances. If you know that you want to do something not listed as an option with your photographer, ask about copyright releases before the pictures are created.
- Copyright release forms can be very specific and only allow for a certain type of duplication, such as the ability to make holiday greeting cards. A copyright release form is not an open invitation to do anything you want with a copyrighted image. Read the form carefully for usage limitations and expiration dates.