In the early 1950β€²s, LIFE Magazine decided that the pictures that were shot for them by many wonderful photographers were their property and therefore, they had the right to re-license them. The photographer’s thought otherwise, and insisted that the photographs were their property to resell at their discretion.

This went to court and after a long heated battle with TIME-LIFE the photographers won the battle. The courts decided that the copyright remained with the photographer and the magazine had just licensed reproduction rights. The original property, after the contract was concluded, returned to the photographer along with the negatives.

via The End Starts Here.

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  1. Sadly, seems like more and more clients are asking for full rights transfer lately. Turned down 2 jobs last month because of non-negotiable demand for all rights to all photos, and one was from a big, well-known media brand.

    On the other hand, I did have a pleasant negotiation with one big media company last month, too, to use a couple of my pictures that started out with “We usually request all rights for all time,” and ended with a very specific usage license at a proper fee and we both were happy.

  2. It depends on the client really , I am not sure I want to hang onto rights of photographs of some things if it means losing a job , I mean a photograph of a cement mixer is hardly going to bring in a fortune in rights in the future is it ? Portraits of celebrities yes , but even then some of them are destined for the dustbin of history, one can get too precious about these things sometimes. On the whole I would rather have the rights encased in stone and non negotiable by law but that’s a hard one to get started.

  3. I remember a great line I heard years ago from a filmed interview of Arnold Newman advising photographers not to sell their copyright because ( to paraphrase ) sometimes he felt like an 80 year old man living off a 25 year old photographer.

  4. I tell clients that I have an implicit agreement with my subjects that I will control where the image goes, what it is used for…. While I DO TRUST the client to handle this image carefully, I CANNOT TRUST a third party, who may simply sell the image for royalty-free stock and my subject may have his/her picture used to advertise dentures or Preparation H or something embarrasing….

    And I’m not the kind of guy who lets my subjects have that happen….

    I’m pretty hardline about not selling “all rights”….. I explain that “all rights” means that the image may be used by third parties, especially if the client company gets bought, and the original people are not there anymore….

    It is a gift those mid-20th century photographers bestowed upon us and future generations, as long as we don’t mess it up.

    Clients need to learn that we’re “not out to screw them ” but rather we’re “out to protect our reputations”

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