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Know Your Rights: Copyright and Print Waivers in Family Photography Explained

Family photos hold immense sentimental value, preserving cherished memories for generations. However, amidst the digital age and the ease of sharing visual content, it's important to understand copyright law and how it relates to family photography. Additionally, as a consumer of family photography services, it's essential to grasp the concept of print waivers and their significance.

In this article, we review some basics of copyright law concerning photographs, explore the importance of print waivers, and clarify how understanding Copyright laws can help when enlisting the help of family and friends for your photography needs.

A stylized Copyright symbol exists next to a portrait of two lovers. Underneath reads "Know Your Rights Regarding Photography"

What is Copyright?


Oxford Languages defines Copyright as:

nounthe exclusive legal right, given to an originator or an assignee to print, publish, perform, film, or record literary, artistic, or musical material, and to authorize others to do the same.

Copyright is a legal protection granted to creators of original works, including photographs. It provides exclusive rights to the creator to control their work's reproduction, distribution, display, and adaptation. It's important to know that Copyright protection is automatic and does not require formal registration.

Typically, the person who takes a photograph owns the Copyright to that image. Therefore, if you are the one who captures the shot, you likely hold the Copyright. However, there are exceptions to this general rule. In short, a photographer may sign the Copyright to another individual or entity.

Can I make prints of my family photographs without violating copyright laws?

When you hire a professional family photographer, they typically have their clients sign a print waiver or a print release form. A print waiver is a legal document that outlines the rights and permissions granted to the consumer regarding photograph use, reproduction, and distribution. It is an agreement between you, the consumer, and the photographer.

Print waivers are crucial as they clarify how you can utilize the images you receive from the photographer. Here are a few key points to consider:

  1. Personal Use: Most print waivers allow you to print and display the photographs for personal use, such as framing them for your home or creating photo albums.

  2. Limited Commercial Use: Some print waivers may grant you limited rights for commercial use, enabling you to use the photographs for personal business endeavors, such as on your blog or social media accounts. However, reviewing the specific terms outlined in the print waiver is essential.

  3. Exclusive Rights: Print waivers may state that the photographer retains the exclusive rights to the photographs, prohibiting you from selling or licensing them to third parties or using them for commercial purposes without the photographer's permission.

  4. Copyright Ownership: Even if you have a print waiver, it's important to note that the photographer generally retains the Copyright to the images unless stated otherwise. You cannot claim copyright ownership or significantly alter the photographs without the photographer's consent.

If I enlist the help of family or friends to capture our family photos, who owns the Copyright to those images?

It's important to note that copyright and print waiver laws apply regardless of whether you hire a professional photographer or seek assistance from family and friends to capture your family photos. While the dynamics may differ regarding personal relationships and informal agreements, it's still essential to understand and respect copyright principles to protect everyone involved.

Like professional photographers, the person who takes a photograph, whether a family member or friend, typically owns the Copyright to that image. Copyright protection is automatically granted upon creation, irrespective of the photographer's background or relationship with you. So, when enlisting the help of family or friends, it's crucial to establish clear communication and mutual understanding regarding the usage and distribution of the photos. Obtaining permission from the photographer, even if it's a relative or friend, ensures that everyone is on the same page and respects each other's rights.


Understanding family photography copyrights and print waivers is essential when consuming family photography services. By comprehending the basics, you can navigate the rights and permissions associated with the images you receive. Remember that copyright ownership typically remains with the photographer, but print waivers outline how to use the photographs for personal or limited commercial purposes. Always review the print waiver carefully, seek clarification, and respect the photographer's rights while enjoying and preserving your precious family memories.


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