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Ben Jones
Ben Jones, UK Lawyer
Category: Law
Satisfied Customers: 50157
Experience:  Qualified Solicitor
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I am a photographer that owns my own Limited company. 2

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Hello, I am a photographer that owns my own Limited company. For around 2 years I agreed to work with a commercial photography company for 12 days a month for a set fee. We have never signed a contract on anything. Recently, I moved and worked with this company on an ad hoc basis. I have informed the company that I wish to no longer work with them. They have responded that they own copyright over all my images and should I wish to use them 'in any context' then I need permission.
I do not think that this is correct and want to be able to display my own work for my own business if I want to. I have no intention of preventing this company using the images for their clients.
Furthermore, I fear that an outstanding bill will be withheld until I agree to this.
I would be grateful if you could advise me.
Daniel Day

Hello, my name is***** am a qualified lawyer and I will be assisting you with your question today. Was the issue of copyright ever discussed verbally?

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
We have never had an outright discussion about it but I would say that the implication was always that the copyright would be with the company that I worked with.

What do you mean by the 'implication', was that ever raised in any sense or was it just an unspoken assumption?

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Although I cannot remember ever having a direct conversation that he had copyright, I was happy to be paid per day to supply images for this person to use the images as they wanted.

As far as the law on copyright of images is concerned, the starting point is that the person who took the image would automatically be the copyright owner. This would mean that the photographer who took the image would own its copyright. Saying that, the copyright could be assigned or transferred to another party in one of few ways.

First of all this could happen under a specific agreement between the parties where the original copyright owner agrees to transfer or assign their copyright to the other party. This could be done in writing (preferable as then there is documentary evidence) or via a specific verbal agreement. The fact that you were paid to supply the photos to this client and allowed them to use these does not mean you transferred copyright to them, it just means that you allowed them to use these, in effect you gave them a licence to use the photos over which you had automatic copyright having been the person who created them.

Another option to transfer the copyright is in employment relationships where someone creates copyrighted material as part of their work for someone. In these cases your employment status would be important. If you were an employee working under a contract of service then the copyright of works created in the course of your employment will automatically belong to the employer. However, if you were not an employee and were self employed, a contractor or consultant, then you retain the copyright even if the work was done in the course of work you did for another party. This was confirmed in the case of Robin Ray v Classic FM.

So in the circumstances it is more likely than not that you would have retained the copyright of your images.

This is your basic legal position. I have more detailed advice for you in terms of the steps you need to follow should they decide to withhold payment for work done as a result of this, which I wish to discuss so please take a second to leave a positive rating for the service so far (by selecting 3, 4 or 5 stars) and I can continue with that and answer any further questions you may have. Don’t worry, there is no extra cost and leaving a rating will not close the question and we can continue this discussion. Thank you

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Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Thank you Ben. That has been really helpful.

Thank you. If they decide to withhold payment because you cannot resolve the issue of copyright, you can consider pursuing them for what you are owed as their liability to pay you does not depend on the issue of copyright.

Whenever a dispute arises over money owed by one party to another, the debtor can be pursued through the civil courts for recovery of the debt. As legal action should always be seen as a last resort, there are certain actions that should be taken initially to try and resolve this matter informally and without having to involve the courts. It is recommended that the process follows these steps:

1. Reminder letter – if no reminders have been sent yet, one should be sent first to allow the debtor to voluntarily pay what is due.

2. Letter before action – if informal reminders have been sent but these have been ignored, the debtor must be sent a formal letter asking them to repay the debt, or at least make arrangements for its repayment, within a specified period of time. A reasonable period to demand a response by would be 10 days. They should be advised that if they fail to do contact you in order to resolve this matter, formal legal proceedings will be commenced to recover the debt. This letter serves as a ‘final warning’ and gives the other side the opportunity to resolve this matter without the need for legal action.

3. Before you consider starting legal action you may wish to consider sending a formal statutory demand. This is a legal request which asks the debtor to pay the outstanding debt within 21 days and failure to do so will allow you to bankrupt the debtor (if they are an individual ) or wind up the company (if they are a business). For the relevant forms to serve a statutory demand see here:

4. If they fail to pay or at least make contact to try and resolve this, formal legal proceedings can be initiated. A claim can be commenced online by going to Once the claim form is completed it will be sent to the debtor and they will have a limited time to defend it. If they are aware legal proceedings have commenced it could also prompt them to reconsider their position and perhaps force them to contact you to try and resolve this.

Whatever correspondence is sent, it is always advisable to keep copies and use recorded delivery so that there is proof of delivery and a paper trail. The court may need to refer to these if it gets that far.