How to prevent clients from editing your work

NOTE: I’m not a lawyer (surprise!) so this isn’t -like- official legal advice, m’kay? You can go here for that. She’s rather good.

Q. “A lot of photographers today (including myself) offer the digital images from a session for a price.  The client gets a print release, but the photographer retains the copyright to the images.  My question is, how do you prevent clients from ‘doctoring’ these images and posting them online as your work? Or how would you tactfully explain to them why they are not allowed alter the images even though they have digital copies?”

A. Yet another lesson I learned the hard way. Your clients will very likely be slightly photography savvy, otherwise they wouldn’t have recognised the importance of paying a professional. And Photoshop Elements or Lightroom costs next to nothing. So, many consumers are into playing with photos in editing software. For some clients, turning an image you spent an hour on into a sepia-tone-piile’a-mud might seem pretty fun. Not to us though, eh?

When you hand over that disk (release or not), you have to resign yourself to the fact that you are losing control of those images. If you’re not ok with that, don’t sell digitals. But there are measures I take to protect my reputation and with the entire world online, it doesn’t take long to catch a friend-of-a-friend messing with your stuff.

This is what I do: on the disk, I have two folders – ‘for printing’ and ‘for web’. And then I have a PDF release which states:

This doesn’t always stop it from happening. Sometimes when I do a teen session, I find their friends have grabbed the photo off their FB, ‘edited’ it, added glittery text  (“Ur my BFF 4eva!”) or hearts and stars to it and then posted it online. I just laugh usually. It’s clearly not my work and I don’t bother to address every occurrence of this.

If you do run across misuse of your images, you have every right to kindly email and explain that this doesn’t mesh with the release and people will just remove the images. If not, you can report them to Facebook and they will remove it for you without deleting the user’s account or anything drastic like that.

Again, if you want to retain total control of your work, don’t sell digital files. And if you do choose to sell them, do so as a top notch price bracket so that you will have made enough money to sometimes just say “whatever”.

  • I have to know, what is the font you use for this release form? Its lovely! 

  • Thanks so much as I am starting in the business now and I was just researching “printing release” forms just the other day.  I didn’t even think of  creating a separate web folder.. This is sooo valuable.  Thanks again.    Now, it makes me wonder about using an online professional printing service.. Any suggestions????   I appreciate you very much!!!!

  • elizabethhalford

    Absolutely! Where do you live?

  • Tim Bishop

    Thanks Elizabethh! Nicely put, I too have been learning the hard way! :)

  • Thank you – this was perfectly timed and very helpful. I also had to figure out how to write up permission for someone who was using the photos for professional purposes and therefore would need to put it on their promotional materials. A first for me!

  • I guess, my question is what keeps the client from using the other folder  – printing folder – for web use???  sorry, just noticed your question.  I live in the US, Dallas Fort Worth area.  I noticed you mention Staples sometimes in your blog ( am I right?), would Office Max be compatible for printing services ?

  • Does the “web” folder have your watermark/logo on the images?