Recently, a friend of mine asked if I could photograph his band to use as promotional material along with their newly-recorded album. They want to use the image(s) to send to record companies, put on their website/Facebook, etc. I realize that they're very low on funds and I'm not charging them provided they give me credit, however I am concerned that if they get picked up by a record company the images could be used without my permission, credit and/or compensation.

I realize this is all very speculative, but I just want to be on the safe side. Should/can I copyright the photos I take before handing them over to the band members? And how? Is there any paperwork I should take care of? What protection would this give me, and what else should I know?

PS: I live in the US.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Here's a few relevant answers. In short, get everything in writing - especially when dealing with friends. \$\endgroup\$
    – ckoerner
    Commented Jan 2, 2013 at 22:18

2 Answers 2


You have automatic copyright on your own pictures. Regardless of who you hand them to. What you want is to establish a "usage agreement", a.k.a. a usage license, where you will grant the band the rights to use your pictures for their own promotion, and only that, in exchange for being credited for your work. Based on this, the records company will not legally be allowed to use the pictures themselves, unless they reach out to you for a new agreement. However, I'd more imagine that if the records company like your pics of the band, they'd reach out to you to take more pictures :)

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    \$\begingroup\$ Always get it in writing... I did the same when I did a shoot for a friend of mine's business, spelling out how the images could be used and who retains copyright (me). \$\endgroup\$
    – Joanne C
    Commented Jan 3, 2013 at 2:11

You can and must copyright your photos to keep any rights. You simply put a copyright message on them. You can periodically submit a batch of your photos to the Library of Congress to "register" your copyright.

But copyright does not address the terms of use, and that is your prime concern. Write up an agreement where you keep the copyright on all the images, and license the rights to use the photos for specific usages over a specific time frame. List the acceptable usages. Make it non-transferable. Of course, legal advise given for free on the internet is not worth much, IANAL, etc. So if you really want protection, talk to a local lawyer.

You can set the price of the usage agreement to anything you want. Usually its best to charge a nominal fee, say $10. Or even a couple of beers. You can even write that they agree to pay you $10, and you never remember to collect it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ In the US at least, the first statement is not true. Your copyright is intrinsic, whether you have written a copyright statement or not. Registration is also not necessary. Both of these will strengthen your claim for damages in any dispute, but I think it likely that a written agreement would have the same effect (or stronger, since it'd be clear about the issue at hand). A contract is always strongest when there is consideration — something you get in return — which is why there's the suggestion of a small fee. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Jan 3, 2013 at 0:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ Again, IANAL, and I agree that registration is not required. But it does make a legal case a lot easier. It also makes the case easier when you have copyright text in the meta data. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 3, 2013 at 1:07

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