Q: I am a professional photographer. I was recently commissioned to take a family portrait and my customer was delighted with the result. As I often do, I later put a copy of the portrait on my website to show potential customers visiting the site what I can do. My customer has now contacted me and complained they are unhappy about this. Although I have taken the photograph off the website because I don’t want to upset them, I always thought that copyright remained with the photographer who could then do what he wished with the image. Am I wrong?
A: The answer to your question is in fact that you are partly right and partly wrong. You are right in so much as when a professional photographer is commissioned to take photographs, including domestic portraits and wedding photographs, the copyright will generally remain with the photographer. The situation might be different if the photographer is employed by a professional studio as then the copyright will generally belong to the studio, or if there is an agreement to assign copyright to another party.
However, notwithstanding that copyright belongs to the photographer or studio, if a photograph has been commissioned for private and domestic purposes then the person who has commissioned the photograph has the right not to have the photograph issued to the public, displayed in public, or broadcast.
If you wish to display photographs on your website for advertising purposes it would be prudent to get the agreement of your customer in writing before doing so. You may also wish to consider contacting a solicitor to have terms and conditions drafted that you can bring to the attention of your customers or publish on your website.