For many photographers the knee jerk answer to a client asking you to edit photographs taken by another photographer is no, or no way. But, no might not always need be your answer.
Now, just hang with us for a couple of minutes while I explain. Let’s talk first about the questions you need to ask to protect yourself. Then we can talk about when and why you might say yes.
Do they (the client) own the copyright? If they say yes, ask to be sent a copy of the license.
The reason for the follow up step is that the client might assume that a print release equals copyright. You can participate in educating your clients about copyright, different types of licenses and what they can and can’t do with images they may possess but do not own the copyright for.
Ask for written evidence – a contract or specific license that includes editing?
You can require evidence of the copyright owner granting permission to your client, such as requesting the contract and/or the photographer’s contact information from your client. Either the client will realize they don’t have the requisite legal right to request editing services, or you will get what you need to protect yourself.
Do you have a disclaimer and waiver as part of your service contract that addresses quality guarantees?
For example, a waiver that addresses: a) no guarantees as to quality of finished product or similarity to your style; b) the client indemnifies you against any copyright infringement claims relating to the images (and attaches a copy of the license that allows for editing, and the creation of a derivative work, signed by the copyright holder)?
What about the ethics of editing another photographer’s image?
Even if it is legal and the client does own the copyright or has a license that includes editing and the creation of derivative works, does editing another’s images without their knowledge fit within your ethical framework?
Do you understand 17 USC 106 and copyright yourself?
Remember: the buck stops with you.
So, even if you have the client sign a waiver that they own the copyright for the images, and that they will accept liability from the photographer should you be sued for copyright infringement, are you really protected? What about your reputation?
For those getting started in photography, it is important, perhaps, to note that whether you receive money for editing another photographer’s images is irrelevant to the question of copyright infringement. If you copy or alter another photographer’s work without permission it is copyright infringement. Money doesn’t come into it, at least not on this question.
If you do decide to include these images in your own portfolio, clearly mark them as edit only. Check the release or licenses your requested from the copyright owner to make sure that you have the right to use them in advertising.
What if you say Yes to editing the photographs of another photographer?
As a photographer you might, with the correct legal permissions from the copyright holder, choose to offer post-production editing. We have heard of wedding photographers providing this service to clients who chose to have an amateur photograph their wedding and are looking for a professional to find anything useful from the images. What we have seen and heard is that because most photographers who offer this type of editing charge by the hour, and the work is very time intensive (it’s always easier to edit a great photo than a bad one), they can make as much from the post-production editing as they would have from shooting the wedding in the first place.
Here’s a sample response email to a request for you to edit the work of another photographer. You may or may not want to omit the third paragraph about offering to reshoot if they are unable with the edits you are able to make.
I’m happy to quote you a price on the editing work requested. In order for me to provide an estimate, I require a copy of the contract indicating a rights release (including editing) from the photographer or their contact information so I may request release on your behalf you. Please note that if you do not have a release already, the original photographer may levy a fee to obtain such a release.
As I am not the original photographer and I do not know the quality or condition of the images you are asking me to edit, I can make no guarantees about my ability to duplicate my style or the quality of the work that you see on my website or in my portfolio.
Should I be unable to recreate the quality / images you desire with your files, I would be willing to do a photo shoot with you and your significant other at a special rate.
Thanks for contacting me,
If you do decide to offer photo editing as a service, or you decide to outsource some of your editing, be aware of the need for clearly written licensing agreements and possessing the appropriate releases to be able to copy, edit, and create a derivative work in the course of editing. This could be a lucrative service to provide and it may well be a saving grace to a photographer in the midst of a busy season in their business, but only if all of the legal documentation is in place to protect all concerned.
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