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As the photographer and the person who took the images, she legally owns their copyright and has full right to decide how they are dealt with. She would have usually given licence to use the photos after payment. However, if they did not pay she would have had full right to retain the photos and not allow them any usage or access - as mentioned she has full legal copyright over them. If it eventually became apparent that they were not paying and in turn acted in breach of contract, they would have lost the right to get these photos and she would not be expected to retain them forever. So as long as she made reasonable attempts to get payment and gave them opportunities to pay what they were due to pay, their consistent failure would have eventually allowed her to delete them if necessary. So even if they make legal threats now, there is not much they can do.
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yes a contract would still exist even if done verbally
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