From the Professional Photographers of America (PPA)
Copyright is the exclusive right of a photographer to control the use and reproduction of the
photographs they create. Violators of this law are subject to both civil and criminal penalties.
Copyright does not give photographer the right to freely use their images as they wish. State laws
determine the need for a model release from the subjects of the images for certain commercial
uses. Copyright does, however, prevent others from using professionally-
the photographer’s express permission.
The Federal Copyright Act (U.S.C. Title 17) and other cases, establish the following:
• A copyright comes into existence automatically the moment a professional photograph is
• By law, that copyright belongs to the photographer or the photographer’s studio.
• A customer who commissions and purchases the photograph does not thereby obtain
ownership of the copyright.
• Any transfer of the copyright’s ownership to a customer must be outlined in writing.
• A lab, or other third party, who prints or reproduces photographs commercially, has a
legal duty to ensure that the requested copy or intended use is lawful before filling the
• A photograph does not need to be marked with a copyright notice to be protected.
• A photograph does not need to be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office to be
protected by copyright law, but more enforcement options are available for registered
• A photograph can be marked with the © symbol immediately upon creation; it does not
need to be registered first.