Post Script

Why Copyright Matters

by Jean-François Seguin

April 4, 2017

A recent copyright debate reminds photographers to protect their work


© Feng Yu/Shutterstock


In photography programs at school, teachers are always reminding students of how important it is to retain their copyright and control the use of their images.


But in the real world, license agreements are a battle. Young photographers want and need their first contracts, and they might be more inclined to make things easy to attract new clients when it comes to image usage—by not regulating it at all.


What are the ramifications of that? More than 200 photographers, advertising and fashion professionals, members of CAPIC (Canadian Association of Professional Image Creators) and students gathered at Dawson College in Montreal to find out at a copyright and licensing debate I helped to organize this past February.


Two successful photographers participated in the debate—Pierre Manning, from Shoot Studio in Montreal, who was in favour of the practice of image licensing, and Gabriel Rancourt of Gabriel Rancourt Productions in Quebec City, who was opposed to it. A special thanks goes out to Maxence Bilodeau, journalist for Radio-Canada, for being the perfect host and moderator for this much-anticipated debate.


Bilodeau started the evening with a coin-toss to determine who would answer first. Rancourt, a self-taught advertising photographer who started out in weddings about 10 years ago, said he built his business the best way he could in the digital age—and, as a result, said he never charges separate fees for image usage. He gives his clients the freedom of using the images as many times as they want, with no license agreements. He mentioned he prefers to charge a larger lump sum up front and not bother his clients with license fees once the images are delivered.


Manning, on the other hand, has been in the business for over 20 years. He pointed out the importance of having an image usage agreement to protect both the client and the photographer. From there, Manning negotiates the pricing of the license agreements in accordance with the type of image usage. He always charges licenses and very rarely must police clients. His clients are fully aware of the license agreements and contact his studio to renew the licenses if needed.


During question period, Marie-Josée Trempe, president of Specs Model Management, shared her thoughts on how important it is to control usage of images since third parties, like models, are often part of the equation. Model agencies and models are paid according to the length of the image use—time period, territories, online or print campaigns.


Fashion photographer Genevieve Charbonneau also chimed in to explain why photographers should defend license agreements. And many members of CAPIC reminded everyone about the past battles to secure copyright in Canada.


Manning explained that images have a lot of value, which is why clients might want to own the copyright or have unlimited usage. By the end of the the debate, Rancourt said he was open to use license agreements in the future so he could have better control on the use of his images. He explained he’d never had any training from experienced photographers and had never studied in a post-secondary photography program.


Sixty-nine photographers from Quebec participated in a small survey organized for the debate. Results showed that of that pool, 28 per cent of photographers always charge licensing and 43 per cent occasionally do. Fifteen per cent never charge licensing because it is not applicable and 14 per cent never charge licensing because they choose not to or because the client asks for unlimited usage. Annually, 57 per cent of the photographers who charge for usage collect less than $15,000/year in licensing revenues and 15 per cent collect more than $15,000/year.


The most interesting result is that 64 per cent of these photographers find it difficult to charge license fees. What elements enable a photographer to negotiate license fees with a client? Is it the quality of the photographer’s portfolio, the client’s understanding of a license agreement and the value attached to the images, or the photographer’s experience and reputation in doing the work and delivering the job?


A few days after the debate, Rancourt posted the video of the entire debate on his Facebook page. Only three weeks after the post, the video had 1,300 views.


So CAPIC is organizing meetings in April to discuss the situation and explore new ways of educating, helping and supporting photographers and illustrators who are already members of CAPIC, as well as future members. Denis Gendron, a professional photographer, teacher at Dawson College and administrator for CAPIC, said he realizes that there is still a lot of work to do when it comes to licensing education.


Copyright is a property right. Under the US Federal Copyright Act of 1976, photographs are protected by copyright from the moment of creation. Manning’s generation of photographers worked very hard to fight for their rights and for the licensing of images. Only in 2012 did photographers get included in the Canadian Copyright Act, which grants ownership of copyright to professional freelance photographers for work created in the course of their employment.


Worldwide, only a few countries still don’t have a treaty for photography copyrights. But the debate and the survey clearly showed there still are difficulties and differences in doing business when it comes to licensing agreements and copyright.


After the debate, Laurel Breidon, photography department chairperson at Dawson College, commented, “As a photography teacher, I believe that teaching students about licensing images is very important. As Mr. Rancourt mentioned, he had no mentors. Photographers and artists in general need to stand together to support each other in this. In a time when images can be used so freely by anyone with no regard for the person who created it, or the people in it, I think that we all need to remember to value our work.”


Says Rancourt, “I did a lot of thinking about all this and decided to have a better control of my images when it comes to commercial work and advertising agencies. My advice to the up-and-coming new photographers is to get informed, to have mentors and to get educated on the subject and the business itself.”


Jean-François Seguin is a commercial photographer based in Montreal and Toronto.


For an in-depth look at copyright and project management, pick up the 2017 Applied Arts Photography & Illustration annual, on select newsstands in early May. 



Gisele Guimond

April 5, 2017


Great article. Artists need to defend their rights and their creativity seen through their work.


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