Monday, March 5, 2012

Realtor Wants to Assign Photo Rights

Dear Rich: I’m a Realtor and I take hundreds of photos of my listings every year and write the copy for publication. I compile the information that is then used by our local multiple listing service. I am being approached by multiple vendors I do business with wanting me to give them my copyrights to my photos and text. Is there a copyright that will cover my work as whole, both existing and future listings, without my having to file a separate copyright for each listing’s photos and text?  Just so we're clear ... You take the photos of the properties and as photographer, you own the copyright in each photo. Certain vendors want permission to use the photos, is that right? Or do they want to own all rights to the photos?
If the vendors just want copyright permission ... In that case, you can write a statement to the effect that "I own copyrights in all photos that I furnish to you and I grant you permission to reproduce the photos for your [name of site or publication] and I retain all other rights." (You can find more nuanced language in our Getting Permission book.) A license allows you to retain copyright and permits the other party to use the photos. We'd recommend that you seek a license rather than assign your rights (this article explains the difference).
If they want to own all rights ... In that case, you need to assign your rights in each photo. When you do that, you won't retain anything. You would do that with a statement with each photo or batch of photos that you furnish. It would be something to the effect of "I assign all copyright in the following photos: [list the photos by the property addresses] to you." Of course you might want something a little more formal. This statement can be by email as long as you follow the rules shown here. If you assign, you can't reproduce the images yourself unless you get permission from the new owner.
Do you need to file a copyright application? No. Copyright is automatic in the U.S. and you get it once you click the shutter on your camera. Registration, though recommended, is a formality that provides certain legal benefits. You don't have to register copyright to license or assign your rights.