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College sports photos and copyrights
Carlisle Stockton, Photographer
Stanfordville | NY | USA | Posted: 4:03 PM on 06.01.10
->> We would really appreciate any advice from shooters who know how best to handle this issue. We have a college that we have been their sole shooters for 12 years. They have never purchased the copyright to our photos but as we understand it, they have "unlimited use". We've never had a contract with them but every DVD we give them has our (c) written on the face of the DVD. This school has now put out a 300+ page photo book on the history of their basketball program up to present day. There is an author for this book that is not affiliated with the school.

No one ever contacted us for permission or to purchase the copyright for the images used. Seven out of thirteen photos on the cover are ours. We have not seen the book itself but would assume that the photos spanning the past 12 years are also ours.

We have a very good rapport with the department and would like to settle this amicably if there is, in fact, anything to settle.

Thanks in advance for any and all help!
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Mark Peters, Photographer
Highland | IL | USA | Posted: 4:35 PM on 06.01.10
->> If they indeed have unlimited use, what's the issue?

The problem as I see it is that no one can determine what licensing rights they actually have as this was never established between you and the publication via contract.

Good luck with resolving this.
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Bradly J. Boner, Photographer, Photo Editor
Jackson | WY | USA | Posted: 4:36 PM on 06.01.10
->> Carlisle - the lack of a contract is going to make this pretty sticky. I would guess that they're assuming the price they paid you to shoot the photos gives them the rights to use the photos as they see fit.

The big word in the last sentence I just wrote is "assume." Without a contract stipulating terms of use, clients are pretty much free to "assume" just about anything.

Maybe someone else can give advice on how to deal with this issue (I'm not gonna go there), but moving forward I would draw up and mutually agree upon a contract before doing any more work for them.
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Carlisle Stockton, Photographer
Stanfordville | NY | USA | Posted: 4:56 PM on 06.01.10
->> Mark & Bradly, thanks for your speedy replies!

I see the legal problem in not having a contract. But doesn't "use" exclude resale? They definitely know that they do not own the copyright because we spoke a year ago about the option they had to purchase the copyright and open a photo store.

Any ideas how this would be settled aside from the contract issues? Would a shooter normally get royalties from book published photos or a one-time copyright purchase fee?

Thanks for your help and anyone else who has advice, please join in!
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Dave Einsel, Photographer, Photo Editor
Houston | TX | United States | Posted: 5:04 PM on 06.01.10
->> Several questions:

Is the school producing/funding/publishing the book or did an outside individual write the book and come to them for photos? If the former, it might be considered to fall under your "unlimited use" agreement and the horse has pretty much left the barn on that issue.

Did all of the images have complete metadata, ie. your company/photographer, copyright and usage license? If a third party disregarded or deleted it, that is to your advantage per the The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998.

Are the images registered with the copyright office? If no, you will have a hard time finding an attorney to support you if you decide to take that path.

Unfortunately, this happens a lot when handshake agreements replace terms and conditions.

Moving forward, I would contact the school and express your surprise at seeing the project. Ask them the above first question. If they are producing it, ask them what you can do to help. Perhaps you could help edit and bill them for your time. At least then you could make sure the best pictures run big. Also, make sure you get credit for your work.

If it did originate with an outsider, contact them directly and explain that you own those images and there will be a licensing fee for the usage. They would, of course, come back with, "I got them from the school so piss off." At which point you have remain civil but continue to stand up for your ownership.

Finally, the school seems to be a good client that you want to keep but, you should have a simple conversation with the school official in charge to explain your position in an effort to prevent future issues.

Good luck.
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Harvey Dunn, Photographer
Southlake (Dallas) | TX | USA | Posted: 5:08 PM on 06.01.10
->> One final thought...

Talking about the specific facts online in a public forum is not always (ever??) the best thing to do. Asking general questions is good, but getting into the specific facts is probably bad.
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Mike Carlson, Photographer
Bayonet Point | FL | USA | Posted: 5:22 PM on 06.01.10
->> If you haven't seen the final printed copy of the book then perhaps they even gave you CREDIT for your photos! Think of the opportunities that will open for you!


Good luck...ALWAYS get it in writing - even between friends.
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Brad Mangin, Photographer
Pleasanton | CA | USA | Posted: 6:25 PM on 06.01.10
->> Carlisle- sorry to hear about all of this. I have seen this happen many times before and it is usually a great (and horribly difficult) learning experience. It is all usually very simple.

A sportswriter writes a book about a school or team. The writer must pay for all pictures in the book out of the money he or she gets from the publisher (this is how it USUALLY works). Publisher handles the cover. Both writer and publisher always cry poor and go to school or team and ask for FREE images. School or team is always happy to help out and sends them free "courtesy" photos. End of story. Sad but true. You allow the school unlimited use with no contract and they gave them to the writer and publisher to be used in the book as a great way to publicize their program. You can fight all you want, the most you can really do is prevent this from happening again.

Good luck.
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Mark Loundy, Photo Editor
San Jose | CA | USA | Posted: 9:22 PM on 06.01.10
->> Carlisle,

Your major issue is customer service. If the client assumes that they have unlimited rights and you want to limit them, you run a very strong risk of losing the client.

If you think that you can preserve the relationship (or don't care if you don't,) you might set up a meeting to "get everything on paper so we don't run into future conflicts" and negotiate an actual contract.

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Delane B. Rouse, Photographer, Photo Editor
Washington | DC | US | Posted: 9:47 PM on 06.01.10
->> Brad nailed this one.

I really don't understand the issue since you said they had "unlimited use". Sounds like you want to modify your verbal agreement and make it "limited". I watch enough Peoples Court to know that you won't be able to modify this agreement because your client will never agree to you should be able to get paid "extra" for images that they already paid for.

Technically, shooters for my youth sports business own the copyright but my company has unlimited usage (we can sell them or give them away).
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Israel Shirk, Photographer, Assistant
Boise | ID | US | Posted: 11:51 PM on 06.01.10
->> "unlimited use" -> Without limits, allowing them to give photos to third parties for publication.

Sorry :(
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Carlisle Stockton, Photographer
Stanfordville | NY | USA | Posted: 9:34 AM on 06.02.10
->> Hi All. I am so grateful to everyone who took the time to give me advice on this -- THANK YOU! I guess I should clarify that "unlimited use" was just my thinking. It was never said in any agreement or discussion. I do know that they clearly understand that I own the copyright since last year there were several emails discussing them buying the copyrights to open a photo store (which they never did). I thought that since I own the copyright that they could "use" the images for anything but not resale. My "boss" at the school has changed three times since I've been there so truly no one know what, if any, arrangement was made 12 years ago. I'm not sure if that's good or bad. It seems we all concur that the next step is to find out if the book was produced in house or by an outside agency.

Thanks again for all the help and please continue to comment...
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Tom Ewart, Photographer
Bentonville | AR | USA | Posted: 9:49 AM on 06.02.10
->> Take all of your images that you have and officially register the copyright withe the Library of Congress. You can do this as a collection of images for one fee. Do this now. This will help in the long run if it every becomes a true legal question. Without written agreements the photographers get the short end in situations like this usually. But the real legal issue is that they don't have a contract giving them the right to use the images, it's not that you don't have a contract with them saying that they can't. Enforcing this will indeed change the relationship with the school, but someone assuming they can use your work doesn't give them the legal clearance to do so without you granting that permission.
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Thread Title: College sports photos and copyrights
Thread Started By: Carlisle Stockton
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