Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Wedding photographer claims copyright and won't provide proofs

Dear Rich: We have a massive dilemma with our wedding pictures. Our photographer has completely messed up our pictures, she has printed a very poor quality story book when we asked for a traditional wedding album. Our photographer is refusing to give us proofs or reprints without an extra charge. Our photographer states she has copyright and therefore we would have to pay for any further work. We have never signed a written agreement, does she still have copyright? The only copyright information we have seen is some written text on the bottom of an invoice she gave us.  For background, please check out some of our answers about wedding photos -- this one explains ownership of copyright for wedding photos; this one explains the working relationship between photographers and clients; and this one discusses another bride's massive dilemma. If you don't have time to read all that stuff, you should presume that the photographer owns the copyright in the photos. But both sides have rights. Your rights are tied to the contract with the photographer.
Copyright, invoices, and contracts.  The invoice may be relevant, but it's usually not considered a contract by itself (unless it sets forth the terms of the agreement and you agreed to those terms, preferably in writing). So, apparently you made an oral agreement and you need proof that the arrangement guaranteed you a traditional wedding album as well as proofs and reprints.
How do you prove the details? Acceptable proof of your agreement may include witness statements (did anyone hear your conversations?), emails describing the arrangement, examples of typical contracts for wedding photographers, or statements made at the photographer's website.
Mediation or arbitration instead of small claims court. If your goal is to get the album, proofs and reprints, we don't think small claims court is the way to go. Small Claims court is best if you just want your money back. That's why reaching a settlement agreement of some kind would be in everybody's best interests. Have you considered arbitration or mediation? Not everybody likes these methods but we think they could provide an efficient way to achieve your goals.