You might think this a silly question. Of course you own your cherished wedding or civil partnership ceremony photographs. But how far does that ownership extend? Do you have the right to make copies of them and, perhaps more importantly, control their use? The short answer, for most couples, is: no.
Section 23 of the Copyright and Related Rights Acts 2000 to 2007 sets the default position: the author of a work shall be the owner of copyright in that work. In the case of photographs, section 21(h) provides that the author means the photographer. Accordingly, if your photographer provides you with an album and nothing more is said or agreed, it is likely that you have merely purchased the services of the photographer in attending the ceremony along with the physical photo album.
These days, photographers usually offer additional goods or services. For example, many provide a CD with digital copies of some or all of the photos. Some charge extra for such a CD. This is usually done with the expectation that the customer is entitled to make unlimited copies of these photos, but the agreement is often not explicit on this point. Indeed, many customers will not have a written contract in place with their photographer. If the customer is provided with a set of terms and conditions, perhaps on the invoice, this will probably form that contract.
If a photographer provides a CD of digital photos with the right to make copies, this might not permit further dealing with the photos, such as the right to upload them to Pix.ie or Facebook, for example, or to apply effects so that the photo could be printed on canvas in the style of a painting.
An important consequence of the photographer retaining copyright in the photos is that (s)he benefits from the rights of the copyright owner set out in Part II Chapter 4 of the Acts, specifically the right of the photographer to make his/her own use of the photos. I have come across a number of incidents where a recently married couple was surprised to find photos of their wedding displayed on the photographer’s website, magazine ads or even at wedding fairs (in one such case, the bride had not yet seen her own wedding photos when she saw them displayed at a wedding fair).
At this point first ownership of copyright in photos clashes with the Data Protection Acts 1988 and 2003. A photograph of individuals is personal data for the purposes of the Acts and generally should not be displayed publicly by another person without the consent of the people depicted in the photo. A photographer’s terms and conditions might include such consent, but any such consent can only be given by the customers (the couple) and cannot apply to guests. [See also the comments below concerning the right to privacy contained in section 114 of the Copyright and Related Rights Acts.]
Section 22A of the Data Protection Acts provides a limited exemption in the case of journalistic or artistic use of personal data but it is hard to see how a photographer could establish that publication of private photos was a matter of public interest (except perhaps in the case of celebrities, an area which itself is fraught with legal claims).
It is possible to agree with the photographer that copyright in all photos shall be assigned (ie. transferred) to the customer. Any such agreement must be in writing. However, most photographers will either be unwilling to agree to assignment or will charge an additional fee (which might be substantial).
As with anything, it is advisable to discuss with a photographer what exactly is being provided. The photographer should be asked if they retain copyright or assign it, and if they retain it reach explicit agreement on:
- what is the customer permitted to do with the photos provided; and
- that the photographer will agree not to use the photos in any public way.