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Copyright Laws For Photographers In The UK

Explore UK copyright laws for photographers, filmmakers and other creative industries. From consent requirements to data protection and commercial use, discover essential guidelines and legal nuances.

In today’s digital age, where sharing visual content is effortless and widespread, the protection of creative works stands as a cornerstone for artists and creators. For photographers, whose artistry lies in capturing moments, scenes, and emotions through the lens, understanding the nuances of copyright laws is fundamental to safeguarding their intellectual property rights.

There is a robust legal framework in place of which protects the rights of photographers. From the foundational principles of copyright ownership to the practical applications of fair dealing and moral rights, this comprehensive guide aims to equip photographers with the knowledge and tools necessary to navigate the legal landscape and protect their creative assets.

Copyright Laws For Photographers UK

What Is Copyright Law?

Copyright law is a legal framework that grants exclusive rights to creators and authors over their original works, enabling them to control how their creations are used and distributed. It applies to various forms of creative expression, including literary works, artistic creations, music, films, photographs, software code, and more.

Copyright provides creators with exclusive rights to reproduce their work, distribute copies, display or perform the work publicly, create derivative works, and control certain uses of their creations.

Who Owns The Copyright To A Photograph?

In the United Kingdom, the general principle is that the person who takes a photograph (the photographer) is the owner of the copyright for that image. This applies regardless of whether the photograph is taken by a professional photographer, an amateur, or even a person using their smartphone.

However, there are some exceptions to this rule. For example:

Commissioned Work
If a photograph is taken as part of an employment agreement or under a specific contract where the photographer is hired or commissioned to take the photo, the copyright might belong to the person or entity commissioning the work, rather than the photographer. This would need to be stated in the contract.

Employee in the Course of Employment
If an employee takes a photograph as part of their employment duties and it falls within the scope of their employment, the copyright will belong to their employer rather than the employee.

Agreements or Contracts
Ownership of the copyright can be transferred or assigned through contractual agreements. For instance, a photographer might sell or license the copyright to another party through a written agreement.

In cases where the photographer is not the copyright owner (e.g., commissioned work or employer-employee relationships), it’s essential to establish the ownership and rights through clear contracts or agreements to avoid disputes. If no contract states otherwise, the photographer is typically the copyright holder to any image or photograph created.

How Long Does Copyright Last?

In the United Kingdom, the duration of copyright for photography and other artistic works is determined by various factors, including when the work was created and the circumstances surrounding its creation.

For photographs and most other types of artistic works created by an individual, the duration of copyright protection is typically the life of the creator (the photographer) plus 70 years after their death. This means that during the creator’s lifetime and for 70 years after their death, the copyright in the photograph is protected.

However, if the photograph was created anonymously, under a pseudonym, or by an entity (such as a corporation), the duration of copyright is different. In such cases, copyright protection lasts for 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the photograph was created or made available to the public, whichever is later.

It’s important to note that copyright duration can vary based on international treaties, changes in legislation, or specific circumstances. For photographs taken before changes in copyright law, different rules may apply. Therefore, it’s advisable to verify the current copyright duration for specific cases or seek legal advice for precise information, especially if dealing with older photographs or complex copyright situations.

What Is Fair Dealing In Relation To Copyright Law?

In the United Kingdom, fair dealing refers to the limited use of copyrighted material without seeking permission from the copyright holder under certain circumstances. Fair dealing provisions offer some flexibility to use copyrighted images without infringing on copyright, provided the use meets specific criteria. The following are generally accepted purposes for fair dealing:

Criticism and Review
Copyrighted images may be used for criticism, review, or analysis. For instance, discussing the composition, technique, or artistic elements of a photograph in an article or educational context.

Research and Private Study
Fair dealing allows for using copyrighted images for research or private study purposes. This might include utilizing images in academic papers, dissertations, or personal research projects.

News Reporting and Journalism
When reporting news or creating journalistic content, journalists can use copyrighted images to illustrate news stories, but the use should be related to the story and not infringe upon the market value of the original work.

Educational Use and Teaching
Fair dealing permits the use of copyrighted images for educational purposes. This includes using images in classroom teaching, presentations, or educational materials, provided they are used in a way that aligns with educational objectives and does not negatively impact the market value of the original work.

Fair dealing provides some leeway to use copyrighted images under certain circumstances. By understanding the accepted purposes and limitations of fair dealing, it is possible to ethically and legally utilize copyrighted images while respecting the rights of copyright holders.

Do You Need To Register Copyright Of An Image?

Photographers in the UK do not need to register their copyright for their work to be protected by copyright law. Copyright protection is automatically granted as soon as the work is created and fixed in a tangible form, such as when a photograph is taken and saved on a camera’s memory card or a computer’s storage.

Here are key points regarding copyright registration for photographers:

Automatic Protection
As the creator of a photograph, a photographer holds the copyright to that image from the moment it is created. No registration process or formalities are required to establish copyright ownership.

There Is No Official Copyright Registry
Unlike some countries, the UK does not have an official copyright registration system. There is no government office or database where photographers can register their copyright.

Benefits of Third Party Registration
Although registration isn’t mandatory for copyright protection, some photographers may choose to register their work with a third-party service. Registering can serve as evidence of ownership in case of disputes and might make it easier to pursue legal action against infringers, however really isn’t necessary.

International Copyright Protection
The UK is a signatory to various international copyright treaties, including the Berne Convention. This means that UK copyright protection extends to other countries that are also parties to these treaties, offering international copyright protection for photographers’ works.

What Are Moral Rights In Relation To Copyright Law?

Moral rights are an essential component of copyright law that protect the personal and reputational interests of creators, including photographers, beyond the economic rights associated with their works. In the United Kingdom, moral rights are granted to creators as part of copyright law and encompass two key rights: the right to attribution (paternity right) and the right to object to derogatory treatment of the work (integrity right).

1. Right to Attribution (Paternity Right)
Definition: The right to attribution ensures that the photographer is recognized as the creator or author of their work. This includes the right to be identified by name or pseudonym, and for the work to be associated with the creator whenever the photograph is used, published, or exhibited.

Importance: Attribution is crucial for photographers as it acknowledges their authorship and contributes to their professional reputation. It also helps in distinguishing their work from others and establishes their ownership of the creative output.

2. Right to Object to Derogatory Treatment (Integrity Right)
Definition: The right to object to derogatory treatment protects the photographer’s work from modifications, alterations, or uses that could be detrimental to the creator’s reputation or honor. This right allows photographers to prevent any distortion, mutilation, or modification of their work that could be prejudicial to their artistic integrity.

Importance: This right enables photographers to preserve the integrity and originality of their work. It empowers them to object to any changes or uses of their images that might harm their reputation or be against their artistic vision.

What Do I Do If Someone Infringes My Copyright?

Enforcement and remedies in copyright law pertain to the actions available to photographers when their copyright has been infringed upon. In the United Kingdom, copyright infringement occurs when someone uses a copyrighted work without the permission of the copyright owner, thereby violating the exclusive rights granted to the creator. Here are some option to consider if you believe your copyright has been infringed upon:

Cease and Desist Letters
A photographer, upon discovering copyright infringement, can send a cease and desist letter to the infringing party, demanding that they stop using the copyrighted work without their authorization. This letter often serves as a first step in resolving the issue without resorting to legal action and in most cases is enough to get the issue resolved.

Negotiation and Settlement
Parties involved in copyright disputes may choose to negotiate and settle the matter out of court. This may involve reaching a mutually agreed-upon solution, such as payment for past use and establishing terms for future use of the copyrighted work.

Legal Action – Civil Proceedings
If negotiation fails, photographers can pursue civil actions through the courts. This involves initiating legal proceedings against the infringing party, seeking remedies such as damages (monetary compensation for losses incurred due to infringement), account of profits (recovery of profits gained by the infringer), and injunctions (court orders to stop further infringement).

Criminal Proceedings
In certain severe cases of copyright infringement, criminal proceedings may apply. This usually involves deliberate and large-scale infringements that undermine the rights of the copyright owner. Criminal penalties can include fines and imprisonment for the infringers.

Understanding the enforcement mechanisms and available remedies is crucial for photographers to protect their creative works, uphold their rights, and seek appropriate redress in cases of copyright infringement. Seeking legal advice and understanding the intricacies of the legal process can assist photographers in effectively enforcing their rights under UK copyright law.

Your Questions

I am happy to answer your questions and help where I can by email, however please do note that if you choose to get in contact I will post the answer here as well for everybody else to benefit from.

Please Do Not Telephone Me For Advice – I am a working photographer and do not have time to take calls regarding this.

Disclaimer – Any information provided in this article or my answers serves as a general guide and is intended for informational purposes only. While I strive to offer accurate and up-to-date information on copyright laws for photographers in the United Kingdom, this content should not be construed as legal advice.

Copyright laws are complex and subject to interpretation, and the application of these laws can vary based on individual circumstances and specific cases. Therefore, it is strongly recommended that photographers seek professional legal advice or consult with a qualified legal professional regarding their copyright concerns and any specific situations they may encounter.


I took some photographs for my employer during the course of my day to day job working for them, I have since left that role, am I the owner of the copyright to to those images?

In the United Kingdom, the ownership of copyright for photographs taken by an employee during the course of their employment usually belongs to the employer, not the individual who took the photographs. This principle falls under the “employee’s work created in the course of employment” provision.

If you took the photographs as part of your job responsibilities, within the scope of your employment duties, and it was considered part of your role or assigned tasks, then the copyright ownership typically belongs to your employer, not to you as the individual creator.

However, there might be exceptional cases or specific contractual agreements where the ownership of the photographs could differ. This might occur if there were explicit agreements or arrangements in place that specified the transfer of copyright to you as the creator, but such cases are relatively rare and would require clear and unambiguous contractual terms.

Generally, unless there were specific arrangements indicating otherwise, the copyright for photographs taken as part of your job duties would likely belong to your former employer, even after you’ve left the role.


Is it permissible under UK copyright laws to sell photographs I captured of artworks displayed in a gallery, provided I credit the artist on the print?

Selling photographs of copyrighted artworks without obtaining permission from the copyright holder, even if you credit the artist, would constitute copyright infringement. Artists retain the rights to their creations, and taking photographs of their artworks without explicit permission for commercial purposes would violate those rights.

Therefore, without explicit permission from the copyright holder, selling photographs of artworks displayed in a gallery would not be permissible under UK copyright laws. It’s crucial to obtain proper authorization or licensing from the copyright holder before engaging in such commercial activities to ensure compliance with copyright regulations.