Thursday, December 4, 2014

How Long Can They Use My Photos in Catalog?

Dear Rich: Do I have a right to ask for extra payment if a company is still using my photos from a photoshoot in April 2012. After the photoshoot they made me sign a small paper stating I received a payment of 15,000 pesos. There was no other written agreement. They just told me they will call me again if I will be accepted for their next photoshoot. The photos were used in their catalog (I think in April or May 2012 and the next catalogs after that). Up to now there are some photos still in their new catalogs even in their website. Can I ask for extra payment? Are there written limitations about how long they can use my photos? We don't think you're likely to have much recourse for the continued use of your photos but the answer depends on the factors described below.
What nation's law is applicable? You mentioned that you were paid in pesos which indicates that you or the company paying you is Mexican. If the work is subject to Mexican copyright law, we're not going to be of much help. Rules about ownership differ slightly from U.S. law. The copyright law in Mexico is grounded more in European copyright principles than in British rules (like the U.S.). If your arrangement is subject to U.S. law, read on.
Who is the copyright owner? By default you are the copyright owner as the creator of the photograph. However, if you were an employee (not likely) or a contractor who signed a work made for hire agreement, the company would own your catalog photos and would have the right to reproduce them whenever they wanted. So, your first task, if you still have that piece of paper, is to see whether that agreement establishes a work made for hire arrangement or alternatively, whether you gave up rights with an assignment.
License or work made for hire? It's also possible that you may have retained your copyright ownership but you licensed the catalog uses. This could have been done with an explicit license (again, check the paperwork) or it could be an implied license. For example, if the job description stated you were taking photos for use in a catalog, or you orally agreed that they could be used for catalogs, a judge would likely believe that an implied license was granted and the company would be within its rights (provided it only used the photos for catalog purposes). On the other hand, if your oral understanding was that the use was to be limited to a period of time -- say, two years -- then, you would be within your rights to demand more money.