You recently shot an incredible wedding and everything went perfectly!
You edited your photos and the happy couple absolutely loved them.
You posted a sampling to your website and then your parade got rained on with you received an email from the manager of the wedding venue claiming that since the venue could be recognized in some of your photographs they have a right to your images.
You scramble over to TheLawTog® to ask “Do venues have claims to photographs taken on their property?” so let us get started!
We will start with the basics of where you can and cannot take pictures legally!
Public versus Private
The general rule for a public place is that you can freely take photographs. A public place is one that is generally open to use by the public for no charge. Examples of public places are a city park, a street downtown, and a state beach. You generally do not need permission to shoot at these locations.
Certain public places have restrictions on taking photographs, such as national monuments and areas dealing in national defense. Sometimes this will mean you can never take a photograph, sometimes it means no camera equipment that will obstruct the use of the area for others, and sometimes it just means you need permission first.
The general rule for private property is that you need permission from the owner of the property to take photographs. A private place is one that is privately owned and generally not open to the public for free (a place that you would expect a level of privacy). Examples of private places are a person’s home, a hotel room, and a hospital. You generally need permission to shoot at these locations.
Some privately owned places open themselves up to the public and can cause some confusion in determining whether it is public or private. For example, a shopping mall is privately owned, but they invite the public in regularly for free. Another example is a professional sports venue, which is privately owned but encourages the public to come in for a fee. Although these places do open themselves up regularly to the public they are still privately owned, and thus the owners can place restrictions on photography. Photographers may be notified of restrictions in a number of ways, including posted signs and contract language on the ticket you purchases. Photographs taken within the restrictions of the locations are ok to take.
Permission to Shoot
When you want to take photographs in a location that has photography restrictions, you will need permission first. Some steps you can take to gain permission include:
Asking for permission in person or over the phone is a common tactic, however if the owner changes their mind later then you have no written proof of your agreement to help your case.
Fees and Permits
Some public places, like national monuments, and some private places may require a fee, permit, and/or proof of insurance before you may shoot.
A property release is a document that grants you the right to take and use photographs on private property. This can be given for free or in exchange for something such as payment, copies of the photographs, mention of the venue on your website, etc.
If you gain permission by one of the above methods, then the venue only has what rights that were agreed to.
Is a Wedding Venue a Public Place or a Private Place?
Of course it depends on where the wedding is being held. It could be blatantly in a public place, such as a beach, or in a private place, such as a private home. If the wedding is held in a public place then you will likely be free to take photographs, but what about if the wedding is held in a privately owned place?
If a wedding is held at a privately owned place, such as a winery or a hotel, then you need to consider whether you need permission and/or whether you will be held to any restrictions. Even if the location ‘opens itself to the public’, since the location is still privately owned they may have restrictions in place about when, how, and where you can photograph.
Venues often used for weddings and events generally already have a policy in place specifically allowing photography for events hosted in their venue. Check with venue management, the event coordinator, or even your client for details.
(Here is a random sample from a hotel of their guidelines. See bottom of page http://amwaygrand.com/weddings/faq)
The Photographs Were Taken Legally…But Who Owns Them?
The general rule here is that once you press the button on your camera to take the picture you own that picture.
You own them, but a vendor is claiming rights anyway
Ok, let’s do the same scenario, but with a twist. You shot a beautiful wedding and the clients are thrilled, but now a vendor from the wedding is contacting you saying they have rights to the images they can be seen in. Do they really have a right to your photograph?
A quick primer on the rights a person in a photograph may have:
- Privacy Right – If the person is in a place that they should reasonably have some privacy (e.g., their home, a bathroom, etc.) then you cannot take their picture.
- Publicity Right – This means that a person’s ‘likeness’ cannot be used for commercial purposes without their permission.
The DJ is the one complaining, but he is just a blurry body in the background. You likely have nothing to worry about here since the DJ’s right to privacy and publicity are likely not being affected.
What about if the DJ is posing with the bride and groom for the photograph? The general rule is that a photograph that was taken where there was no expectation of privacy and shows a recognizable person is fine to use for any editorial use. This means that as long as you do not use the photograph for a commercial purpose (i.e., advertising) then the recognizable person likely does not have any claim to rights regarding the photograph. If you do want to use the photograph for a commercial purpose then you will need a model release from any recognizable person in the photograph.
(Basic photographer’s rights info: https://www.aclu.org/kyr-photo)
In sum, to know if a venue will have rights to your photo you need to know their restrictions if they are a private venue. The chances are a policy benefiting both you and the venue is already in place. As for a vendor’s potential rights, the only major way this would come into play is if you were to use a photograph with a vendor’s face recognizable for a commercial purpose.
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