Planner Smarts: Who Owns the Photos from Your Event?

PhotosYou're planning to update your website or portfolio. So, at your next few events, you hire a professional photographer or ask a member of your event team to snap some great photos. You're all set. Right?

Not so fast. In an active discussion started on LinkedIn by New York-based Keri-Anne Slater of Dandelion Events, event planners are discovering that the United States Copyright Act and State privacy laws make the issue of legally using event images a lot more complex than it first appears.

Copyright Laws

Under, the U.S. Copyright Act, photographers ownership their images and the right to use, reproduce and modify them. This copyright protection applies to both professional and amateur photographers. Yet, some event planners are under the mistaken impression that they own the photos produced, when they hire a photographer to cover an event..

The only exception is "work for hire" under which employers own the copyright for images their employees shoot as part of the duties at work.

Contractors and freelancers own the images that they shoot. The U.S. Copyright Act stipulates that work by contractors or freelancers can be deemed to be "work for hire" only under  the following very specific conditions:

  1. The company (or event planner) engaging the photographer must commission or place an order for the work.
  2. A contract must be in place before work begins specifying that the photos are to be taken on a "work for hire" basis.
  3. The work must fall into one or more of 9 specific categories.

If an agreement is not in place before work begins, copyright ownership is retained by the photographer. Notwithstanding, under the U.S. Copyright Act, the use of copyrighted photos can be licensed.

The Act also makes provisions for the purchase of copyright and exclusive rights to a photo. Again this must be in writing and the specific terms including how the photographer's credit is to be handled needs to be included in the contract. It can be expensive to purchase exclusive rights to a photo. For example, Montreal photographer Alexandre Racine shared an article about a Texas photographer sold exclusive rights to use a single image in the pharmaceutical industry  for $18,000 with our LinkedIn Group.

The implications for event planners are clear. Communication and written agreements are important keys to the legal use of image photos.

Here is where you can find more information about U.S. about the U.S. Copyright Act

Privacy Laws

U.S. privacy laws protecting the rights of individuals and property owners are enacted at the State level. To ensure that you can legally use event photos with subjects who are recognizable:

  • model releases should be signed by the subjects in all photos (i.e. event participants)
  • include permission to use photos in contracts with speakers, facilitators and exhibitors at all events
  • written permission must be obtained from private property owners to photograph and use event venue photos

Conference organizers should also ensure that, on their registration forms, participants grant permission for photos in which they are subjects to be used by the media and bloggers. Contracts for speakers, facilitators and exhibitors should also include a similar clause.

Here is where you can find more information about U.S. Privacy Laws.

Legislation varies from State to State and country to country. (For example, "Work for Hire" does not exist in Canadian legislation governing the use of photos.) For this reason, It is extremely important for event planners to determine the specific  legal requirements for taking and using photos at each destination where they are planning events.


Please Note: This feature is not intended to provide legal advice. It has been written strictly to raise the awareness of event planners. For advice, consult a competent legal professional specializing in privacy and copyright legislation for the jurisdiction in which you will be holding your event.


For tips to protect your own intellectual property, consult Event Planning Challenges: Protecting Your Intellectual Property on the Cvent Event Blog.

Photo Credit: Ashley Mackinnon

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