Part 1: Copyright & Trademark Law for the Wedding Industry

What’s not to love about a wedding? There are flowers, music, good food, it is expected you eat cake and also dance ridiculously. If I could choose any profession besides my own, I would be a wedding planner and have even been known to help friends from time to time in this area. Simply, I love love.

My mind has been on weddings because in a few weeks The Hubs and I will celebrate 5 years! We married on a September morning in a garden at Disney World with a few family friends.  This week’s post and next week’s post will be dedicated to the intellectual property issues that are the bird seed of the wedding industry. This week, let’s talk about photography.

shoesWhen it came time for us to say “I Do,” the photography and location were the most important aspects to us. A few years earlier, Dan and I met Julia Bailey and Max. Their style of telling the story of a couple spoke to us. Outside of being awesome people, dog rescuers, fearless fighters of copyright justice, crazy creative and just all-around terrific people, their photos are just yummy nuggets of glitter perfection. I knew Julia and Max were the ones for us. Throughout this post, you will see some of their work on display and if you like what you see, then visit their blog HEREIt will be the best wedding decision you will make, outside of marrying your spouse, of course.

The wedding industry is constantly growing, especially in light of the recent Supreme Court decision. More wedding planners, photographers, venues and catering services will see an increase to their overall business model simply because there will be more customers to serve. As this business industry grows, there will be opportunities for creative works to be on display by way of wedding photography.


Photography by Julia Bailey

The obvious copyright issue with wedding photography is in the copyright in the photos itself. A word to the wise for all soon-to-be brides, please read your contract. There are several questions that should be answered in the contract as it relates to who owns the photos. Do you own the photos or does the photographer?

CeremonyMost brides wrongly assume that because they are paying so much that they own the rights in their photos.  This is not always the case.  I would tell all brides to ask the question – Who owns the copyright in the photos? What am I actually paying for when I hire you as the photographer? The photographer should be happy to answer these questions.  Do not be shy in asking.  I know, it sounds crazy, but recently I reviewed a photographer contract for a friend only to find out she was paying $5,000 and only owned the physical photos. No copyright.

So, what does this mean for brides and grooms? If you do not own the copyright in the photos, then that means the photographer owns the copyright. This means, you have no rights to post the photos on Facebook, make additional copies of the photos, give a license to a magazine or blog to reprint the photos. To sum, even though you paid a high price for photos and the photos are of you, the only rights you might walk away with is the ability to simply put the photos in an album in your home. If that is all you are interested in, then great. However, for me, paying the amount of money you are paying you should own the copyright in the photos or have some license to use them in any way you see fit.

This is what I would ask for. At the very least I would ask that each party jointly own the copyright in the finished photos. Another okay scenario is for the bride/groom to own the copyright, but grant the photographer a non-exclusive limited license in perpetuity to reproduce the photos for promotional purposes to showcase the work she has done. In other words, the photographer has a right to put your wedding photos in a portfolio, on a website or otherwise showcase the work they did for you. Another option that is still okay would be for the photographer to own the copyright, but you also have an unlimited license to do whatever and however you wish with the photos, outside of re-editing. These terms must be specifically outlined in the contract with the photographer, along with date, time and location for the photographer to arrive. Do not count on a “yea, that is okay” conversation to be sufficient. Ask for it in writing.


If a photographer tries to tell you they will not give you the copyright in the photos or grant you an unlimited license to do whatever you want with the photos, then run. Fast. You should steer clear of that person. Do not fall for the “this is industry standard” line. Unfortunately, many photographers have been duped by these “wedding workshops” in believing that is how you must conduct business and is the right thing for them to do in order to have a successful business. They have been told by these workshops simply teaching people how to make a book that this is what is considered industry standard.  The truth is each photographer should decide for herself how to setup her own business.  It might be industry standard for them and how they conduct business, but if you are paying several thousands of dollars you should own more than simply a physical copy of the photos.

VeilWedding photography is not inexpensive. You deserve to own more than just a physical copy. There are a lot of really great photographers out there who would be more than willing to work with you and give you ownership in what you rightfully paid for. From hiring lots of photographers, I have found those with the most experience (experience in years and in other industries outside of wedding photography) are usually the best ones.

In my next post, I delve into music usage with weddings and how that looks. What has been your experience with photographers? Take part in the Comments section below and Stay Tuned In!

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3 thoughts on “Part 1: Copyright & Trademark Law for the Wedding Industry

  1. Reblogged this on William Tennant LLC and commented:
    As Father of a 2016 Bride To Be…I’ve enjoyed reading many personal services contracts incident to the happy occasion. Since when did weddings become such a commercial enterprise? Of course, I did ask the prospective photographer about use of the wedding pictures and was told I should be honored to have my daughter’s image splashed all over his marketing materials…We came to a more satisfactory arrangement. Here’s the copyright and trademark take from Statute of Ryanne, one of my fav IP Blogs. Enjoy.

  2. This information is so helpful; most brides/grooms don’t even think about this stuff! I will definitely be sharing. I am excited for next week’s post as I am presently humming the tune to which I hope to make my aisle entrance. 🙂

  3. Pingback: Part 2: Copyright and Trademark Law for the Wedding Industry | Statute of RyAnne

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