Do You “Own” Your Wedding Pictures? What You Need To Know About Copyright Law

Do you own your wedding and engagement photographs?

Odds are, you don’t, and you may not have any real legal right to use them at all!

Recently, we’ve had a few conversations with brides about their wedding and engagement photographs and what they want to do with “their” images. These brides were under the impression that because they had hired a photographer for their wedding and engagement photography, and possibly because they were in the images, that the images were “theirs”—as in the couple owned the images and all rights to them.

This is becoming a common misconception among the wedding industry, and it seems to be primarily coming from the influx of new, inexperienced, and less-educated photographers offering their services to couples for their wedding and engagement pictures (they aren’t the only ones that are pushing this myth, however).


Make sure you know your rights as a customer of a wedding photography company—you may be unknowingly breaking the law!

The Truth About Photographic Copyrights

According to the Federal Copyright Laws of the United States of America, the individual who takes the picture owns all rights to that image. You may or may not have already been aware of this—however, hiring a photographer (or “commissioning” them) to create your wedding photographs doesn’t imply or signal a transfer of ownership.

Professional Photographers of America has shared more information about this on their website:

“Copyright” describes the rights given to creators for their literary and artistic works.

But we often don’t consider copyright when we look at our family photos, or go to get them copied. Even though it is so easy to copy an image—with scanners, photo-quality printers, and copy stations—it is still illegal.

What does this mean for you?

It means that if you are in possession of digital images from your engagement or wedding and share them on Facebook, send them in an email, post them on Instagram, or have any print or product created from them—regardless of the size or where it was made—you are breaking the law.

So, what should you do about it?


This is a sample cover page for an official copyright release license from Knox Wedding Creative.

If your photographer delivered digital images to you, they most likely meant to grant you some form of a release from the Federal Copyright for those images—which we call a license. This license outlines what rights you are and are not granted (what you are allowed to do with the images and for what period of time you can do it).

To be in the clear, you should obtain written documentation of your copyright release license for the images. Please note: Don’t be shocked if your photographer refuses to sell or offer you the copyright ownership for images. Most photographers will not offer clients the ownership rights to any images they take. Transfer of copyright ownership for photographs in the wedding and portrait industry is incredibly rare for true professional photographers.

Why does the copyright matter?


This is the real document we provide customers who receive our Full-Resolution Digital Images Gift Set. It is a legal release from the copyright so they can use the images to do almost anything they would like with their wedding and engagement photographs.

Here is some more information from PPA about copyrights:

  • Just because you buy a print does not mean you have purchased the copyright.
  • Under the Federal Copyright Act of 1976, photographs are protected by copyright from the moment of creation.
  • Photographers have the exclusive right to reproduce their photographs (right to control the making of copies).
  • Unless you have permission from the photographer, you can’t copy, distribute (no scanning and sending them to others), publicly display (no putting them online), or create derivative works from photographs.

And here is some info from PPA about how copyrights affect and promote local small business: 

  • Professional photographers are dependent on their ability to control the reproduction of the photographs they create. It affects their income and the livelihood of their families.
  • Even small levels of infringement—copying a photo without permission—can have a devastating impact on a photographer’s ability to make a living.
  • Copyright infringements—reproducing photos without permission—can result in civil and criminal penalties.

Click here to see more information from PPA about copyrights.

At Knox Wedding Creative,


This is the third page of our copyright release license, which includes the terms and conditions of the legal agreement and the rights granted to the license holder. It’s technical and sometimes boring stuff, but it makes a huge difference to you on what you are allowed to do with your images. At Knox Wedding Creative, we don’t leave you in limbo—we let you know what you can do and give you the documents to prove it!

We spend time educating our brides on what her rights are, and we offer written documentation of copyright release licenses with our digital image files. All of our clients know they are safe because they have a legal document outlining what they can and can’t do with their images simply because we communicate that with them. In addition, we provide clients who want digital image files in their packages with three versions of every image and two guides on caring for digital and print images—so your photographic memories last as long or longer than your recollection of the event itself.

We are also members of the Professional Photographers of America and our owner serves on the Board of Directors for the Professional Photographers of East Tennessee, the local affiliate of PPA and the only professional photography trade organization in the area. If you have any questions about your rights as a consumer regarding photography—regardless of whether you are a Knox Wedding Creative client or not—we encourage you to contact us and we can help you determine what rights you may have and what documentation you may need (P.S.: this is not an offer for legal consultation or advice, merely a kind offer for guidance and our best analysis of your current situation).


How to Pick a Knoxville Professional Wedding Photographer / Videographer #4: Why Do Professional Associations Matter?

Picking a wedding photographer, wedding videographer, or wedding cinematographer is simple, right?


You go to a bridal show, find one with the right package price and a great deal, a pretty booth with pretty pictures (or movies) and sign on the dotted line. You get to go home happy you saved a lot of money and check wedding photographywedding videography, or wedding cinematography off the wedding planning list until you end up following up for the free engagement session or maybe a couple of weeks before your wedding to make sure you’re on the same page.

But that’s not how it’s supposed to be!

In this blog series, we will share exactly what to look for, how much to pay, what to ask, and essentially how to go through the process of picking a wedding photographer / videographer / cinematographer. First, it’s important to go over some important characteristics and why they’re important!

Don’t assume all wedding photographerswedding videographers, or wedding cinematographers are the same!

The artistic images are often the most powerful and memorable wedding photographs.

What you are actually paying for could be much different from your expectations (especially after reading this series). Here are eight (potentially surprising) secrets about the field of wedding photo/video/cinema:

  1. Not all of us are professionals.
  2. Not all of us do this as our full-time job.
  3. Not all of us care about the art of photography.
  4. Not all of us keep up with trends and the market.
  5. Not all of us are active members of professional associations.
  6. Not all of us design the experience our clients have.
  7. Not all of us educate our clients on the benefits (and drawbacks) of different media for images.
  8. Not all of us share our success by giving back to those in need.

We will cover why each one of these characteristics is relevant to you with different posts—so you don’t have to take it all in at once!

What are professional associations and why do they matter?
Knoxville Professional Wedding Photographer - Award Winning Knoxville Wedding Photographer | Professional Photographers of East Tennessee | Knox Wedding Creative

This image from a Knox Wedding Creative engagement photography session was the top-scoring image at the 2014 Professional Photographers of East Tennessee annual image competition. Not only does it symbolize quality for brides looking for their wedding or engagement photographer, the competition provides critiques to the members so they may refine and improve their photography skills in the future.

There are a handful of local, regional, and national professional associations that wedding photographers / videographers / cinematographers can be a member of, each of which are fairly unique. Why do they matter though?

First, members of local professional associations are regularly surrounding themselves with other quality professional photographers / videographers / cinematographers—some of which have more experience, some less, but all have the goal of becoming better at their craft.

These members of local guilds also have strong relationships with other quality professionals who often work together for clients to create fantastic experiences. In the event of an emergency or failure (especially in the wedding industry), this local network of quality professionals is a huge benefit to clients of professional association members. If something terrible happened (knock on wood) to your wedding photographer / videographer / cinematographer and they aren’t an active member of a local professional association, you may be “up the creek without a paddle.”

Another reason these associations matter for you is they often hold competitions with professional judges and give out awards to the best work. If you see that a wedding photographer / videographer / cinematographer has won awards from a professional competition, you know they have experience, offer high-quality services, and their work was independently deemed to have been better than their peers / competitors.

Lastly, you want your wedding photographer / videographer / cinematographer to be actively involved in such an organization simply because their membership is almost symbolic they have most of the other characteristics of the best wedding photographers / videographers / cinematographers we’ve mentioned in our other “How to” articles on hiring photographers / videographers.

What this means for you:
Knoxville Professional Wedding Photographer - Award Winning Knoxville Wedding Photographer | Professional Photographers of East Tennessee | Knox Wedding Creative

“The State of the Estate” was the top-scoring image in the Commercial – Architectural category in the 2013 PPETN competition. When searching for your wedding photographer, make sure you recognize a variety of skills in your wedding photographer. You’ll get a greater variety of quality images—in this case your venue will be photographed beautifully as well.

When looking for your Knoxville professional wedding photographer, look for one that has an active membership in a professional association. Members of these local, regional, and national associations provide you these benefits:

  • Continuous improvement in knowledge and application of skills and techniques
  • Community of quality professionals to learn and ask questions with
  • Quality and skilled backup photographers in case of emergency
  • Independently reviewed competitions and awards (signal of quality)
  • Consistency in quality images
  • Symbolic embodiment of the characteristics of the best in the industry
Wedding Tips Series

Part 1: Where You Get Ready Matters
Part 2: How to Pick a Wedding Photographer or Videographer – Step 1 (Why Hire a Professional?)
Part 3: How to Pick a Wedding Photographer or Videographer – Step 2 (Why Does Full-Time Matter?)
Part 4: How to Pick a Wedding Photographer or Videographer – Step 3 (What is the ‘Art of Photography’?)
Part 5: How to Pick a Wedding Photographer or Videographer – Step 4 (Why Professional Associations Matter)

Stay tuned for more great tips by getting social with us!

P.S.: Want to customize your wedding photography or cinematography experience?
Click to setup a free consultation with us and we’ll start designing your wedding ASAP!

Do you have any additional advice or suggestions for other brides about the value of hiring a photographer or videographer who is a member of a professional association? Share them in the comments below!