Copyright Release

It’s a common problem when you have a professional grade digital camera today: you take an image into a retail location to have prints made and the clerk refuses to make the prints without a release.  For us professionals we are grateful that these retailers are not giving away our property without proper authorization, but it’s a major hassle for the personal user.  There is an easy way to avoid the hassle and that is to write a release for yourself and sign it before you ever get there.  Yeah, I know you’re not necessarily skilled at writing a copyright release, but it doesn’t need to be terribly complicated.  

All of that being said; let me be perfectly clear that I am NOT offering any kind of legal advice here and you should seek the services of a legal professional for legal advice.  I am simply offering an opinion on this issue.

A copyright release to print you own images may seem crazy to you, but it makes perfect sense for us professionals who prepare images for clients on a regular basis.  Those retailers who refuse to print your images are simply protecting their employer from possible legal action, and that is exactly what they should be doing.  Unfortunately, most of them would not be able to tell you what EXIF data is, let alone access it to verify that you own the image.  So make it easy on yourself and that clerk by walking in with the proper documentation in the first place.  Here are a few ideas for you to use: 

1. Mark the image with a © symbol followed by your name.  You can make that signature relatively small in a lower corner of the image and it will not affect the photo in any way, but it will be available for the clerk to see on the face of the photo.  That being done, it’s a simple matter of showing the clerk your driver’s license to verify that you are the person who has claimed copyright to that image.  In most cases this should solve the problem.  I will make one note about this method, DON’T CLAIM COPYRIGHT TO SOMETHING THAT IS NOT YOURS! The resulting lawsuit and action by a federal court may not turn out well for you.   

2. If you are bringing a disk of images to be printed, include a copyright.txt file on the disc that the clerk can easily access to read.  The copyright.txt file could be as simple as this:


Sample copyright.txt file: 

All images on this disk are the copyrighted property of Jeff Cowell (Obviously, you should include your own info here)
2300 E Douglas Ave
Wichita, KS 67214
www.jeffcowell.com(some person’s name) is hereby granted limited release for production of prints up to 16″ x 20″ ONLY.  No images are to be sold without the express written consent of the copyright owner.


 3. Print a sheet of paper that reads just like the copyright.txt file and bring it with you. In most cases this should be plenty of evidence that you respect their need to protect the corporation they work for and you are in fact the owner of the images that you are printing.  Keep in mind that if you are giving your images to a friend or family member you should include a copyright release for them so they don’t run into the same problem.


Photo Seminars by Jeff Cowell© 2010 Jeff Cowell, jrcowell.com

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~ by jrcowell on August 1, 2010.

3 Responses to “Copyright Release”

  1. Very helpful information. Some of us who have already experienced this with our photos can attest to the frustration that can occur when you have to prove that the photos in question are our very own! Thanks, Jeff. Good article!

  2. Hi, Jeff. Long-time, no-see. Can you tell me how to put the copyright symbol on the photograph, please?

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