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In our wedding photographer's contract it states that she includes the "Copyright RELEASE to ALL Images" and does not specify to only the edited images. Do we have the right to demand the RAW image files as well?

The "edited" photos of my daughter's wedding on washed out to the point that skin tone is not flattering, the white dress melts into the white sand and shows no detail and eye sockets are black like zommbies yet our photographer is refusing to edit photos because she says this is the way she edits ALL her wedding photos. We reviewed examples of other wedding photos she had took on white sand in her website gallery and none of these looked as harsh as ours. The photographer (who was paid in full) is refusing to make adjustments even though we have offered to come to her at her convenience. She keeps stating that she is too busy to do so and is under stress.

Do we are considering taking legal actions and need to know if we have the right to demand the RAW files. At this point, I would just be happy to obtain these memories and pay someone else to edit them.

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You need to consult a lawyer. My gut tells me her release is intended to give you the right to reprint, post, do what you want with all the images she's given you. It may not be intended to mean she's required to turn over all images taken on the day, or any raw or unedited images (if raw images even exist - are you sure she didn't shoot JPG?) –  MikeW Mar 5 '13 at 17:47
    
What country are you in? Without knowing the country and even further like states, this question cannot be answered. –  Unapiedra Mar 5 '13 at 18:39
1  
Can you just ask her for copies of the original files and indicate persuasively that that would allow you to go away happy - or as happy as possible? She may have had a major disaster and what you are seeing is the best she can retrieve and she does not wish to let you know this. It does happen. You hope it's not so in your case. Recovering from the situation as well as possible is your aim and no amount of litigating is going to improve the originals IF they are substandard. –  Russell McMahon Mar 6 '13 at 0:01
    
Re "It does happen" -> I once took photos at a nephews wedding as a guest (with permission but on a totally informal unarranged basis). I was present behind the formal photographer for most of the photos and took photos in church. I never saw the official results but apparently all were a disaster and mine are the main record that they have. –  Russell McMahon Mar 6 '13 at 0:02

3 Answers 3

I am not a lawyer, however it would probably depend on the language of the contract about what would be provided to you. Having a copyright is not the same as having the right to demand the images. You have the right to do with the images what you want, but I'm pretty sure the contract would have to specify what the deliverable is and how/when it would be delivered. Honestly, it's really a question you need to ask your lawyer rather than an internet QA site as it is a contractual grievance.

Based on the issues described, they may have even not shot in RAW format. I hope for your sake they did, but it sounds like a pretty unprofessional photographer. Even when I first started as a naive high school student I made sure to provide more professionalism than you are getting.

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I second the advice to contact a lawyer to be sure, but from a non-lawyer standpoint, I'm afraid you are on shaky ground. A copyright release says that the rights-holder (still the photographer) has voluntarily suspended some part of those rights. She still owns the copyright, but you are allowed to do something; that something should be spelled out in the contract, but if it just says what you've quoted, it's a little muddy (which is where the lawyers end up making a lot of money and no one else really wins). Still, it certainly doesn't say that it gives you complete ownership of the images in all of their forms.

If you wanted the RAW files, you should have spelled it out initially, and maybe looked for some sort of satisfaction guarantee. Kind of a hard way to learn the lesson after an unrepeatable event, unfortunately. At this point, I'd try asking very nicely rather than threatening, and if that doesn't work, threaten bad reviews online rather than legal action — because you're much more likely to win that than a court case.

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First things first: Get a lawyer!

Second: I read the term "copyright release" as referring to the releases of copyright such that you (or your daughter, whoever made the contract) may print it and redistribute the photos. Like @mattdm said, this means it is very unlikely that you have any standing towards getting the RAW files.

Third: There have been cases where damages were won by victims of wedding photographers (This makes it sound wedding photographers are bad. Some are but most are good.). If you are willing to get a lawyer involved she may be able to get you monetary compensation or force the photographer to concede these RAW files to you.

Fourth: Could you offer money to the photographer to buy the RAW files from her? I understand that this sucks in many ways but it might still be cheaper than using the lawyer.

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