Copyright in the Digital Photo Era
How do you . . . get permission to reprint digital images?
Summary: The business and process of architectural photography have evolved rapidly over the past few years, and change continues. Not many years ago, professional architectural photography consultants required their clients to purchase prints directly from them, while the photographers held the negatives under copyright law. Architects could obtain multiple photos of their buildings only by buying them from the photographer. Things have changed.
Bear in mind that architectural photographers consider their images, regardless of the format, to be just like the drawings, plans, and specifications that architects prepare--instruments of service. The photographer owns the images as instruments of service.
It is common for photographers to provide their clients with the right to unlimited reproduction of the images, as long as proper credit is given to the photographer
The digital camera format has changed the way many photographers approach their craft and art. Now, it is common for photographers to provide their clients with the right to unlimited reproduction of the images, as long as proper credit is given to the photographer. This ability is quite similar to an architect’s clients requiring by contract that CAD files be furnished to them at the conclusion of a building project. Those clients never ask the architect for permission to “run another set.” Neither those clients nor other architects may, however, use the documents for another project without acquiring permission.
Beware the parallax
Architectural photography, as compared to many other photographic niches, has a unique trait that bears special mention. Typical digital cameras cannot correct perspective in the same manner that a 4x5 studio film camera, or a 35 mm or medium-format film camera with a PC (parallax-correcting) lens can. Until technology changes yet again, this complication renders most digital images equivalent to traditional 35 mm images: awkward in terms of perspective. Although the digital image and its unlimited photo-software manipulation capabilities can change the gray sky to blue, it cannot fix the problems associated with three-point perspective.
Digital cameras can change the gray sky to blue, but cannot fix the problems associated with three-point perspective
No doubt the cost of the relatively new and very expensive 4x5 digital cameras with their costly PC lenses will come down over time. Meanwhile, most architectural photographers will continue working with their standard equipment.
Architects should discuss the option of procuring rights to the unlimited reproduction of images photographed by an architectural photographer when negotiating the fee for services. As mentioned, many photographers will grant such permission, as long as proper credit is given. In essence, photographers are as interested in proper attribution of credit as are architects.