I'm wondering what the process is of transferring copyright ownership is. I ask because my wife and I have started a small photography business and are now getting questions regarding copyrights.

In our contract, right now we say basically we retain the copyright to all of the images, but give the client non-exclusive rights to them. We allow them to do anything they'd like with the photos except use our own photos to start and compete as a photography company.

Now, I'm perfectly happy with this, but I'd like to be able to explain what the difference is between the copyright and what we give them. I'd also like to know how to transfer the copyright if needed.

I'm perfectly fine giving away our copyrights as of right now. I understand the client will be able to use it for anything, even publishing and making money off of the images. Great, if they can do that!

so What is the process of transferring the copyright on multiple photos?


3 Answers 3



I am not a lawyer. Go hire one if you need legal advice. Also, I am located in the United States, and this answer is given in that context. Things may be a little (or a lot) different if you're in a different country.

Transferring Copyright

It's like anything else in business: you and your client sign a contract in which you agree to assign your copyright to the client. You could use a stock version like the one I linked above, or have your lawyer come up with something specific to your business, maybe an optional addendum to your standard contract. If you want to transfer the copyright on multiple photos at once, you'd naturally specify all of the photos in the agreement.


Copyright and copyright registration are two different things. When you create something like a photograph, you as the creator own the copyright. If you think it's an important enough work that people might argue about who owns it, you can register your copyright with the US Copyright Office. If you transfer your registered copyright, you'll want to record the transfer with the Copyright Office. The Copyright Office explains in some detail how to do this, but the short and sweet version is that you send them a certification of the transfer (and a fee, naturally), and then they record it and send back a certification that the transfer was recorded.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you Caleb, When I first researched copyrights some years ago, I read that you have to register each and every one of them. But it seems now with the newest rules, it's much simpler. Thank you for this great answer! \$\endgroup\$
    – ntgCleaner
    Jun 24, 2015 at 13:11

There are other options:

You retain copyright but grant your client exclusive use and perpetual use. In that scenario, since you retain the rights to the images, you could conceivably require conditions for use. One such condition might be proper credit to you as the creator/owner of the image whenever it is displayed.

You could also assign all copyright ownership to the client prior to the creation of the images. The contract would state you are producing the photos "for hire" and that the client retains all rights to the images. Back in the heyday of "staff" photojournalists who worked for news organizations for salaries, this was standard practice. Anything created on company time or using company issued equipment belongs to the company. In your case you would be a contractor rather than an employee. But the contract can easily assign the rights to images produced under the terms of the contract to the hiring party. Since the images already belong to the client, there is no need to worry about transferring the copyright.


There is a legal form you can get at the office where you submitted for original copyright. If photos were in a group then only one release is needed, if each individual photo is copyrighted then a release for each is needed. I do recommend however not releasing your copyrights, as someone might very well claim your work as theirs, cutting you out of recognition and or profits.


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