Press "Enter" to skip to content

‘Photographers get copyright wrong’

Copyright licensing terms can be a major bugbear for photographers when negotiating contracts with clients, who sometimes become confused with the myriad and sometimes complex variations of image licensing.

With this in mind Dallas Dogger, chairman of commercial design and marketing agency, R6 Digital,  has found a straightforward ‘tradesperson’s’ approach – handing the client all rights to the image – to be beneficial to his business.

‘Commercial photography is a service – it’s not art.’

‘I put forward that we need to rethink copyright as shooters. I did [rethink copyright] many years ago and I am doing well from photography, and not only me but full-time staff are shooting pictures and video work for clients,’ Dallas told Inside Imaging. ‘We employ 45 staff in Brisbane. We give clients a price and they pay. If they use the material, fine, they can’t resell it, but they can use it where ever they like. We get paid to do the job.’

While copyright is the principle protecting creative works by providing legal security from image theft, Dallas keeps the arrangement with clients simple and free from restrictions. He compares photography to other services, and points out how absurd it would be if a plumber quoted a job based on who will be using the amenities. Whereas the professional photographic industry does this, ‘and in the process talks itself out of work with tricky documents and hard-to-understand terms for the customer’.

‘In my view, commercial photographers get the copyright thing wrong. We are asked to quote on a job to take pictures. The client accepts the quote. We now have a contract to take pictures and hand them over in whatever form that is agreed upon. Our quote covers our time, cost to do business and the deliverables – reflecting the investment we made in the gear we use.

‘When we hand over the images, we are paid. End of contract. What the client does with them actually is their business. Obviously, our quote covers our costs to produce the images needed for their use.’

‘Rights managed’, ‘editorial usage’, ‘royalty free’, and ‘royalty free extended’ are the four fundamental image licences. They’re fairly straightforward and the basics can be learnt in an afternoon of dry reading, but clients don’t always come to the consultation equipped with this knowledge.

There is a tendency for photography customers to think they’re paying a photographer for ownership of the images – from families and couples through to commercial and advertising clients. But when reading the contract they may learn this isn’t the case, with the licensing agreement limiting usage.

For instance, a photographer often considers how the work will be used when drafting a quote and contract. If a marketing agency plans to use photos in a large campaign spanning billboards, magazine and print ads, as well as digital and other media, a photographer may charge more than if the photos appear in a low circulation one-off print-run for a brochure.

If the client decides to make the campaign bigger than initially planned, certain licensing usage clauses in the contract means they may be legally obliged to pay an additional fee.

This has obvious benefits for photographers, who can pull in additional revenue. But a client may use the images for purposes beyond the contract – perhaps out of ignorance – and often isn’t willing to pay an additional fee. This is particularly an issue if the usage is minor, like uploading a few of the pictures to social media.

Dallas finds it’s not worth his time, with the risk of souring a business relationship, to attempt to recoup additional fees. Instead, he advocates for the photographer to just keep it simple.

‘The crazy notion that you should pay based on the use in my mind is just dumb,’ Dallas said. ‘If you are shooting a job for advertising, you charge for the work it takes to get it done. If you are shooting and you don’t know the usage of the work then again, you have not done your homework.’

During consultations, Dallas won’t bring up copyright or licensing ‘unless the client does’. And if they do, then it’s a matter of explaining they’re free to use the images as they please.

Get agreement to use some images for promo work, but let the client use the images as they see fit. After all, they paid for them!’

‘The industry gets itself wound up about “who owns the images”. In reality, the client does. When you look at taking pictures it’s no different to any other work. Fee for a product and service. Commercial photography is a service – it’s not art.’

Dallas may be opening a can of worms here, as there are undoubtedly commercial photographers who view their work as ‘art’. But his opinion is shared by others who feel at odds with their work being called ‘art’.

Years ago a prominent WA commercial photographer told Inside Imaging he felt alienated by the now-defunct AIPP, with it exclusively measuring professional excellence through an ‘artistic’ lens via APPA. He pointed out that, despite being a successful commercial photographer, no one is interested in awarding him ‘for photos of a washing machine’.

Likewise, Dallas states, ‘if the professional photographic industry as a whole understood that it’s little different from any other service or product industry, it would prosper far more.

‘The AIPP was infiltrated by part-time photographers who all thought they were Ansell Adams. There were clearly not professional. They were more concerned about self-congratulation from awards and posting their client-owned images on their own socials to build their own profiles, and this is toxic to a professional industry.’

While R6 Digital is a ‘full-service’ digital agency – covering everything from photography through to design and SEO – Dallas has used this business model for years.

With weddings, for instance, ‘charge the right money, hand over the images and move on. Get agreement to use some images for promo work, but let the client use the images as they see fit, after all, they paid for them!’

This means not getting hung up if they apply tacky Instagram filters, crop images, and prints them at Big W or via Snapfish.

‘This is a big day for those to be married. Charge the right money, agree on image quantity, and then hand them over.

‘By all means, sell a print package and a low and hi-res digital package that is professionally produced. Most photographers want to showcase their shooting skills, so seek agreement to have use of the images from the client for self-promotion. And do. Do not use the event as a personal showcasing exercise as most do or another opportunity to take that award entry. Do not use the event as a personal showcasing exercise as most do, or another opportunity to take that award [-winning picture].

‘This approach means less trickery. When I owned Ambassador Studios in Canberra a long time ago, we won business on a simple formula. In the digital space, it’s a lot easier to deal with image numbers. Charge the right money, hand over the images and move on. Get agreement to use some images for promo work, but let the client use the images as they see fit. After all, they paid for them!’



  1. James Osborne James Osborne August 18, 2022

    I tend to agree with this approach. The key is getting the price right, and simple, clear terms. I like to have a general idea of usage just because it helps me with things like formatting of the final images, but aside from that the client is free to use the images. I do ask for photo credit if possible, I don’t specifically handover copyright and I negotiate to use images for my portfolio. Sometimes the client would prefer them not to be in a portfolio, which is fine. But like the author said, shoot under clear terms and hand over the agreed number of images.

  2. Glenn Lockitch Glenn Lockitch August 18, 2022

    If you’re photographing fridges then possibly okay, but otherwise this approach is too simplistic and undermines the creative experience, history and knowledge of the photographer and value of intellectual and moral rights. Contrary to Dogger’s view most photographers value the creative process in their work.

    • Dallas Dogger Dallas Dogger August 22, 2022

      Thanks, Glenn. Maybe you missed the point. Whilst you might think this approach is simplistic, my comments relate to the business of professional photography. That’s the one where you ask me to take photos and pay me to do it. While you might very well value the “creative process”, many clients couldn’t care less. I* found a process that works for me, gets us business and it works. Just an alternate view.

  3. Daniel Arnaldi Daniel Arnaldi August 18, 2022

    I’m not sure if Dogger’s being vague or if this article makes it seem so.

    The article moves from commercial to retail photography as though there’s no difference, how does licensing come into the picture with retail photography (weddings, portraits, etc)?

    He uses the example of photographers “getting hung up” about clients reposting using IG filters, or where they get their files printed. Well that’s a branding issue, I’m sure that’s a concept anyone working in an agency would understand. To what is basically a micro businesses one bad post or bad print can make for a situation that is palpable in a way that even a mid sized business would never notice. I still don’t see how licensing applies to any of this.

    What does he even mean by “personal showcasing exercise”? Is this a widespread thing?

    He also says “charge the right money”. Does that mean that usage is built into the photography price? Does he even itemise photography in his invoicing or roll it up into the other services his agency offers? Is he in fact selling an unlimited license and the commercial clients are not aware that they’re paying for it even if they don’t need it?

    I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and say that the message here is not coming through as intended, because the alternative would be strawmanning and obfuscation.

    • Dallas Dogger Dallas Dogger August 22, 2022

      I was asked about my views, but I didn’t write the article. You asked about “personal showcasing” Many shooters work hard at their own brand before they sort out doing a good job for clients. Some are more concerned about their image rather than their clients. Our charges are transparent and we do line item our work. Thanks for taking an interest in the topic and wish you well!

    • Dallas Dogger Dallas Dogger August 22, 2022

      I was asked for my comments. I responded. I own a Digital agency with 45+ staff. I have been in the media industry for over 40 years. And yes I have other business interests. I have shot professionally for 40 years. I just don’t go around promoting that fact. Am I qualified to speak on this topic? As much as the next guy who earns a quid from a camera! I learned over the years to do more and use photography to leverage other businesses. My comments are my own take em or leave em! My policies work for our business. Simples!

      • Keith Shipton Keith Shipton August 22, 2022

        Hey Dallas – sorry about the comment from Daniel Arnaldi regarding your qualifications to have an opinion. I thought of taking the comment down because it kind of addresses the individual rather than the argument, but we try not to be too censorious. Thanks for contributing to Inside Imaging on this contentious issue – we totally understand it’s increasingly dangerous to stick one’s head above the parapet. On the positive side, the article has generated a bit of discussion, which we thought it would.

        • Dallas Dogger Dallas Dogger August 22, 2022

          I am happy to answer any questions or reflect on comments. At the end of the day, shooters can do what they like. Many though are on the bones of the wallet though and tricky agreements are just one more roadblock. We won plenty of jobs over others who just made it too hard. And my model was developed on customer feedback, the only important feedback!

  4. Roger Arnaud Roger Arnaud August 20, 2022

    I do agree in some way with what Dallas says especially when it comes to weddings and social photography. It does go against the Better Business Bible produced by the ACMP . I think the photographer needs to keep it simple…and consider what the images may be used for and if he knows its going to be for a worldwide advertising campaign, adjust your fee accordingly. Unfortunately while companies like Snappr and Meero have done so much damage to the photography industry the photographer loses control of copyright the minute he or she signs up to these pirates!

  5. Brett Naseby Brett Naseby August 22, 2022

    I think the article should be headlined, ‘Photographers get licencing wrong’.

    Copyright will always be retained by the original creator of the work. If you sign over ‘copyright’, I’m fairly sure you would be saying the client produced the images. Which obviously they haven’t.

    I think the way Dallas operates makes good sense. If you’re clear upfront with the client about how your business operates there shouldn’t be any nasty surprises down the track for either the photographer or the client. Firm and clear briefs and simple contacts solve that problem straight away. 🙂

    • Dallas Dogger Dallas Dogger August 22, 2022

      Agreed. Make it simple so the client signs. Admittedly we do commercial work and it’s important to note that we compete with smartphones and clients who don’t think we are a “profession”, and see our prices and crack! Educating the market is important.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Our Business Partners