This information is for guidance only. It is not legal advice.
What is copyright? Copyright is the term used to define ownership. In Australia, copyright of a photo is most often attributed to the person who took the photo, however there are a couple of exceptions to this: 1: A photograph taken by a photographer as part of their terms of their employment is owned by their employer. 2: For a photograph taken prior to 30 July 1998, the copyright of a photograph which was commissioned by a person other than the photographer belongs to that person. 3: For a photograph taken after 30 July 1998, the copyright of a photograph commissioned by a person other than the photographer belongs to that person only if it was taken for a ‘private or domestic purpose’ (such as a family portrait or a wedding photograph).
Point 3 above does not apply if a contract/agreement between the photographer and client is signed stating that the photographer owns the copyright.
You can buy the copyright to the photos of you or your business. As a client, you can buy the copyright from your photographer, however it’s not usually needed and can be very expensive to do so. Why is it expensive? Buying copyright from the photographer takes away the control the photographer has of the photo. They can no longer use the photo without permission from the new owner and at a price.
How long does copyright last for? The Australian Copyright Act defines a variety of timelines of copyright protection. Under the current law, copyright usually expires 70 years after the death of the author/creator, with the exception of photographs created before 1955 which are no longer under copyright.
Some other facts about copyright. ♦ Copyright automatically applies to a photo from the moment it is created. Photos do not have to be formally registered or have a watermark applied for the copyright to take affect. ♦ Just because a photo has a watermark applied to it does not mean you can use it for your own purpose (private or commercial use). The watermark is placed on a photo so that anyone wanting to use the photo can easily see who owns the photo, and can contact the owner to gain permission to use the photo. ♦ Copyright is not waived as soon as a photo is published on the internet. ♦ You must seek permission from the copyright owner to be able to use a photo (or part of a photo). Permission may be granted for free, or may be licensed to you at a cost, and is at the discretion of the copyright owner. The copyright owner will usually determine the cost with consideration to how the photo will be used, how long it will be used for, and how many times it will be published. ♦ Crediting the copyright owner is not enough, and does not give you the rights to use the photo. Permission must be granted by the copyright owner for the photo to be legally used.
More information about the Copyright Act can be found here.