Copyrights: Working for or against the freelancer??

by Ryan Faubert - Photography

If you’re a freelancer, you inevitably will be forced into the muddy world of copyrights.  It’s an issue that should be pretty straight forward.  If you create the work, you own it.  However, it doesn’t really work that way.  We as freelancers see our wages and rates being consistently pushed down, making it more and more difficult to operate and live.  The clients we work for/with, also now dem

and we sign over the copyrights to the only commodifiable products we produce.  Does that make sense?  Has photography become such an over saturated medium that it’s value is only in it’s consumption?  No.  The fact that companies, for example Transcontinental, force any and all freelancers (photographers, designers, writers, etc…) to sign over copyrights, infers the opposite.  Companies understand that this content is valuable, reusable and want control of it.

Here is an example of a contract that was sent to me by a beauty editor for a local magazine.  The shoot was already in the can the day before this was sent to me.  Needless to say, I didn’t sign it.

So where does that leave the freelancer?  When I get contracts like this I feeling like we are being treated like dogs at Thanksgiving dinner.  We should count ourselves lucky just to get the scraps.

Here is an interesting blog post I found last year on HMAB regarding the tug of war around copyrights.

Something I found very interesting while I was researching this topic was that, in Canadian law, the commissioner of a work AUTOMATICALLY retains the copyrights to the work unless otherwise agreed upon by both parties.  That doesn’t bother me so much as finding out that it ONLY APPLIES TO PHOTOGRAPHERS.  Painters, illustrators, graphic designers, writers and digital artists automatically retain their copyrights so why are photographers discriminated against?



I like to think that I’m a fairly easy person to get along with.  And if you’d ask my current and past clients, I think they would agree.  Being a freelancer means being flexible and negotiations are just part of business.  There are clients and situations where the client should retain copyrights and vise versa.  The issue continues to crop up because it’s not based on any clear concept of right and wrong.  The value of an image is elastic and each time I work with a new client, it’s one of the first things I try to assess.  Having a frank and informed conversation before shooting saves all parties a lot of misunderstandings and headaches.  But retaining a professional attitude and a concern for your clients needs will always be appreciated, even if you disagree on the fine print.