Amateur actor head shots - copyright fee?

So anyway, I’ve decided to pursue some amateur theatrical acting, ah, pursuits. I need a resume & head shot and I don’t have a lot of time so I figured I’d go to a Sears or JC Penny portrait studio rather than try and do it myself. They said they do this, but that there’s a “copyright fee” of about $50 dollars that has to be added on whether I want prints or digital files. Does this sound right? Or is it a scam? Just because they take the pictures do they automatically maintain some kind of copyright? If I get a gig and my head shot gets used in a flyer/poster etc. would there be a problem?

Again this is strictly unpaid, amateur theater acting.

Yes. The photographer owns the copyright.

If the $50 extra means you’re buying the right to make prints yourself, then that sounds very reasonable to me. But find out exactly what you’re getting for your money.

If you hire a photographer to make a specific image, doesn’t it become “work for hire” and thus the property of the person who did the hiring?

It depends on your contract. Take a look at wedding photographers for example. There are often different fees if you want full control of your images, and even then they usually keep control of the copyright, but they grant you the right of making copies. The “work for hire” seems to be mostly when you are taking photos as an employee.

Not unless specified as such in the contract. I’ve been hired to do many photographic jobs (it’s what I do for a living.) Except for some early work I did for a wire service, none of it has been work-for-hire, and I damned make sure none of it is.

Well, it sounds like BS to me, assuming you’ve already paid for the sitting. Places like this rely on getting people to come in for cheap photo sessions and then sell prints to make their actual profit. So that’s what the $50.00 is. If you had more time and/or the leisure to do some legwork, I’d suggest you look for a local photography school or class that will trade head shots for modeling work.

It depends on how it’s all laid out, but paying for a sitting doesn’t mean you get copyright of the photograph at all. Lots of professional photographers charge one fee for the sitting, and then another fee for prints, files, usage rights, etc. For example, my wedding clients pay for a print release as part of my services, and that allows them to use their photos for personal use only. I retain copyright. If they want to publish the photo in any manner–even if they’re not getting paid for it–they must come back to me and we’ll talk about it. I 'd be pissed if I saw one of my photographs being used on a poster/flyer without previous knowledge of it, as they don’t hold the copyright to the photograph.


Out of curiosity, why? What’s so bad about work for hire?

You lose the rights to those photographs and the ability to resell them, as you don’t have copyright on them any more. Why would you want to give up copyright on your photos? I’ve had one very slow year where almost my entire income was based on reselling images and stories. Had I done them as work for hire, I would have been screwed. So hang on to your photos if you can, kids. (Or, if you do sell them outright, make sure you’re getting your money’s worth.)

Well it sounds like its a fairly legit, boilerplate fee, so I guess I’ll go ahead with it. Thanks for the responses!

But that seems perfectly reasonable to me, as a non-photographer, in the case of things like wedding photos and actor head shots. If you took photos of me at my wedding, I’m not sure I’d want you selling those photos to strangers to do who-knows-what with.

That’s why I have you sign a model release. I’m not allowed to sell your photos commercially without one.

Put it this way–I don’t go around selling other people’s wedding photographs or head shots or whatnot. What I do do with them is use them for my business cards, my website, entering contests, etc. I need to retain my copyright for those. Also, occasionally magazines, websites, books, or other vendors contact me to use some photo. For most wedding vendors, I will usually negotiate a simple link/credit type deal, but sometimes I will earn a fee off the photos. For example, there was an author doing a book for Hachette-Filipachi publishing and she was featuring one of my wedding clients as part of the book (with the bride and groom’s full knowledge and consent, of course.) There were very specific usage rights negotiated, some money in it for me, etc. (The book didn’t quite make it to press, though, as the division handling her book got sold, and the new owners nixed the project.) Anyhow, had I given away my copyright or granted unlimited usage, the bride and groom could have a) given my photos away for free, b) made money off my photos if they so wanted to, and c) quite possibly have given the photos away to the publisher and reproduction rights to it (as they probably wouldn’t know any better), and now the publisher owns my photo and could do whatever they want to do with it and make whatever money they could make from it.

So, yeah, I want to control my photos and know who and where they are being used.