Ask the experts: holiday card dilemma


Q. A photographer friend of mine told me that last year two of his clients used his images to make their own family Christmas cards. They didn’t get a quote from him for printing cards and didn’t even ask his permission to use the photos. How can I prevent my clients from doing the same thing?

A. While it’s difficult (if not impossible) to protect yourself completely, here are three ways you can reduce the chances of that happening to you:

1. Contract language: One feasible copyright defense made by clients is “innocent infringement.” This happens when they acknowledge using your images without permission but claim they did so unwittingly; therefore, they’re not liable for damages or other recourse. You can include a clause in your contract that waives the ability for clients to make that claim.

The contract can also dictate that you explicitly and solely own all copyrights to the images produced during a session. Yes, you own those copyrights even without specifying it in the contract, but you can use this clause as a conversation starter to educate clients.

2. Client education: Not everyone reads through the contract, nor will everyone understand it. Point out the copyright clause and explain its meaning. Most people have no idea they’re violating a photographer’s rights by taking his or her images to the drugstore and using them to make holiday cards. Help them understand that this is a violation not only of your rights but of federal law as well.

3. Watermark: The internet and social media give public exposure to your business and your portfolio, but it’s easy and common for people to copy and paste images they see online. Watermarks allow you to share digital proofs with clients while reminding them of your copyright. A large watermark means greater protection, but many photographers feel an obtrusive mark diminishes the integrity of the proof.

Copyright resources are available at

For updates on how copyright law is changing, see

PPA Copyright & Government Affairs

Tags: copyrightseasonal photography

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