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I recently did my first paid photography job. I have given a copy of the photos to my client and they said "Please do not publicly release the pics until we have released them (which could be 2 years away)".

I let them know that I was building a website and needed some recent material to be uploaded fairly soon and I wanted to use the pictures I took for them to complete my website. They did not seem to happy with this.

I am not sure what to do. If I use the photos, could this turn into a legal issue? Is there a way around this? Or do you have to wait until the company has publicly released them (which in my situation will be too long)?

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    What was written in the contract with your client about rights to the images? – Philip Kendall Dec 11 '15 at 12:17
  • The job was through a friend of mine and was more like helping a mate out kinda thing, so there was no written contract, but verbally we discussed and agreed that the company now has the rights to the images seeing as though I was paid for them. – mmstinger6 Dec 11 '15 at 12:29
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    Go take more photos, use them for your website – cmason Dec 11 '15 at 14:20
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As you said in a comment:

the company now has the rights to the images

Therefore they're not your images any more, they are your client's - and therefore any use of them by you without permission from your client would be a copyright violation. If they're not happy with letting you use them on your website, there's probably not much you can do.

The moral of the story: have a contract, and if you need to retain some rights to the images, make sure that's written into the contract. Don't try and run a business as a "helping a mate out kinda thing".

  • Thanks Philip, I will definitely have to get a contract sorted for future jobs. This was just a foot-in-the-door situation which I will learn from thanks – mmstinger6 Dec 11 '15 at 14:34
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Depending on where you live and the laws of your country, without a contract, it's likely that the copyright of the photographs resides with you. You mention that "verbally we discussed and agreed that the company now has the rights to the images seeing as though I was paid for them", but this is vague unless you specified what "the rights" are. (Exclusive license? Complete copyright assignment? Something else?) Whether a verbal agreement to not use them in a specific way would hold up if held against you in court is an open question — especially if they said that but you didn't actually agree. But:

A. Ugh, do you really want to risk having that fight?

B. Do you feel right doing it, when they specifically asked? The legal matter aside, it seems unprofessional and unfriendly.

My advice is to take some new pictures for your website. However, if you really need them, perhaps you could ask nicely: I know you want to release these first, but if I obscure identifying information, could I use them in my portfolio, please?

  • Cheers mattdm, I don't plan on taking any kind of legal action against them I was just unsure about the whole situation as the verbal contract didn't clear things up. I will fix this up and learn from this mistake. Thank you – mmstinger6 Dec 11 '15 at 14:36
  • But also be aware that they could bring legal action against you. They probably won't, but there is a risk. – mattdm Dec 11 '15 at 14:42
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When you were given the images you were told you would have to wait until they gave you permission, up to two years away.

That's a contract, verbal, but a contract none the less.

You are bound to accept that.

And if you plan to be a successful business you need to be as good as your word.

Can you sue for the right ? You can sue for anything, right or wrong, but it's an expensive process and you'd likely loose. Even if you won you'd spend a fortune.

Want good images for your website ? Take some new shots. If you're planning to be a paid photographer taking new shots should be easy. You could e.g. try an images-for-time shoot with a willing model from e.g. ModelMayhem.com.

  • Thanks StephenG, I will let this one slide because I made the mistake of not having a contract. I will take a few new pics for the website. Thanks – mmstinger6 Dec 11 '15 at 14:40
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While the other answers have covered the rights issue and the importance of a contract, there is an additional issue you need to consider in this type of situation. While a contract may or may not state the rights you exchange with your client, using a photo as promotional material on your website to boost your own business is commercial use. This is distinct from editorial types of use, such as photojournalism or gallery prints. If the image has people in it, to be completely in the clear from legal action if using it as promotional material, you also need to obtain a model release; there are also location releases, if you're shooting on private property.

See also: Can I post a picture of a kitchen remodel we did for a homeowner on our website?

  • Thanks inkista, many of those pictures were of people who are easily identifiable and some were even wearing name tags as it was a formal event (which makes my situation only worse). How does the model release work in a larger event where there are too many people to get signatures from? – mmstinger6 Dec 12 '15 at 4:44
  • I'm not a pro photographer or a lawyer, but this FAQ on model releases says then you can't use those images commercially. – inkista Dec 12 '15 at 7:25
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Besides the fact that it's a legal question, you should consider that it's always a bad idea to ignore the wishes of the clients.

Maybe you could build your website, protect it with a password, go to the client, show them the work and ask them if it would be okay to post this image. If it won't interfere with the companies plans they will give the permission.

Talking to each other is pretty often a better way than talking to a laywer.

  • Thanks Harald, I will definitely talk to the client over a lawyer. The last thing I want is any legal hassle with my clients now and in the future – mmstinger6 Dec 12 '15 at 4:47

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