Canadian Photogs Now Officially Own the Copyright to All of Their Photos

A big win for photographers in Canada: as of today, you now officially own the copyright to all your photographs regardless of whether they were commissioned. The development comes as a result of Canada major copyright reform bill (Bill C-11) taking effect this morning. One of the stated goals of the new copyright law is to, “give photographers the same rights as other creators.”

In an email just sent out to member photographers, Canadian Association of Professional Image Creators (CAPIC) copyright head André Cornellier writes,

The principle of protecting photographers’ ownership rights started 65 years ago by Henri Cartier-Bresson, who founded Magnum with Robert Capa and David Seymour. Magnum assured that a photographer’s image belonged to the photographer and not to the commissioner of the work.

In Canada, all other artists have already owned the copyrights to their work and thanks to this new law, Canadian photographers, albeit the last in the industrialized world, now have all legal rights to their images.

Previously, photographers were not automatically the first owners of their photographs when shooting commissioned work, but instead it was the individuals or businesses that commissioned the images who owned the copyrights. Section 13(2) of the Canadian Copyright Act specifically singled out photography as being different than other creative works.

Photographers who wanted to own the full copyrights of their work were required to have the transfer explicitly agreed upon in a written and signed contract.

That once-murky environment is no more. Starting today, photographers will automatically become the first owners of photos created for someone else.

Cornellier notes that his organization and a number of others have been working to see this law passed for more than 20 years, and that many photographers have contributed countless donations and volunteer hours toward the lobbying process.

Thanks for sending in the tip, Ben!

Image credits: Canada wins Hockey Gold by Chris Bizzy, Canada 125 (Ottawa) 06 by zemistor

  • Bojan Landekic

    You’re lying to prove your stupid point.

    If we’re talking about digital photos, they require loads of electricity, user-know how, experience, man hours, and equipment (which is made of parts and labour). If we’re talking about printed photos, they require similar effort to produce.

    Photos are very scarce. You cannot reproduce wedding photos easily once they are lost. Nor can you reproduce childhood photos if something were to happen to your digital backups. Like say you live in an apartment building and the floor above you leaks with water and all your hard drives get flooded! Most people lack off-site backups of all their digital archives, especially dead tree versions.

    Photos are scarce, just like anything else that captures our precious moments. They are property in every sense of the word. And should be legally ours to do with as we please.

  • Summer Coley-Ward

    Many photographers will work with a contract that transfers photo ownership from them to you, but sometimes, the creator will expect to keep “rights of authorship” basically stating that another creator cannot attempt to take credit for the original creator’s work. The contract you make when commissioning any kind of work for commercial use (design, content, photography) should clearly outline who has rights to what, and how the final work can be used. Most professionals will be very reasonable to work with, but laws like this one just serve to protect photographers from having their work claimed by other artists. It’s not much different than an artist or architect requiring that another artist or architect not take credit for their work simply because the other artist or architect added a blue dot or an extra window to the original work. I hope this helps : D

  • Summer Coley-Ward

    More likely to apply to the compilation – the final product, not split second frames. I suggest you create and use contracts with your clients if you wish to reserve rights to your work. Everyone who “creates” for commercial use should use contracts.

  • Summer Coley-Ward

    That’s like saying that everyone can cook like Gordon Ramsey so long as they can crack an egg in a pan. Absurd!

  • Summer Coley-Ward

    Use a contract that states your terms and rights of authorship to your published work.

  • Summer Coley-Ward

    Once a prof-makeup artist myself, I can tell you that it is your/our sole responsibility to protect our own contributions to works with contracts that state our terms. We cannot (nor could we ever) rely on others to watch out for our best interests. Besides seasoned skill, contracts are what separates the hobbiest from the professional. Your contract should read clearly and be fair, and you can request terms such as: “the Makeup Artist shall be credited (by featuring full name) whenever imagery created under this Agreement is used for commercial purposes, contests or in publications. This does not include 3rd party usage of imagery, whereby the imagery’s other contributors, including the photographer, are not mentioned (such is the case when imagery is used in ads and billboards etc).

    Inquire with other artists and hair stylists whose work is often featured in catalogues etc. Good luck!

  • Summer Coley-Ward

    Depends upon your contract with the publisher. Contracts, contracts, contracts!

  • Lucid Times

    Wrong on two out of three counts. I most definitely show contempt for an industry that almost always places revenue above all else, often at the expense of all else. I was laying out images for the printing press long before the digital workflow arrived and offered unbelievable flexibility and attention to detail. But 37 professional years later, after working with or for, three provincial newspapers, and countless magazines, I’ve seen a steady increase in irreverence for the image and a quick decline in the quality of it’s application, whether that be press or digital publication.
    You simply cannot argue that as a culture, we have lost our way in regards to the ‘art’ of photography and all that should command. Much of that is about massive image saturation at every level. Where’s there was once one absolutely gorgeous sunset picture there are now 4,239,623 of them you can steal with a Google screenshot and post on your Facebook page!
    In regards to newspapers specifically, ads rule, editorial is fodder between the ads and images you squeeze in the cracks if there’s room. Oh, wait, toss that image, Bob in sales just sold another ad! I’m not saying I like it that way. I truly don’t but it is what it is despite your personal ideals. There are exceptions of course and I’m proud to say that may own four-year football publication lived and breathed on interesting editorial and large, plentiful, dramatic images. Since I shot many, sometimes all of them, and laid out the pages in Quark Xpress, I had full control. I also had only 25% advertising content which is a luxury almost no newspaper on Earth can claim. Most fringe around the legal limits of about 70% ad space and simply cannot offer the images the attention they deserve.

    Now if you really want to see how far newspapers have decayed, go find yourself a copy of the original Illustrated London Times. I have two copies, one from 1897 and the other 1925 (Jubillee year) and oh my God, these were the days! Absolutely incredible specially commissioned images on a massive scale. One hundred plus years later there is nothing anywhere that can rival the glory of, and the reverence for the image in this one publication.

  • sbfphotography

    contract contract contract… I am a pro. photographer and I would never think of selling photos of someones wedding. That is just terrible business practice!!!

  • Dana S.

    The C-11 bill has a ridiculous clause that makes usual fair use activities, such as backing up data, illegal if the media you are trying to back up has Digital Rights Management locks on it. It was more for big media companies than it was for us photographers, unfortunately.

    I’d need to re-read the bill, but last I heard it made it very difficult to alter media to add closed captioning and other accessibility features. That’s pretty terrible for people with hearing disabilities.

  • Kim

    Even though the photographer owns copyright to the photo, they can’t profit off of your likeness without a signed model release.

  • Happy guy

    I believe that this a plus for those who do the work and those who take the credit. It the photgraphers eye that makes the company look good. Customers believe that the company is responsible for those amazing images.

  • EricLefebvre

    True … anyone can take a photo. Not everyone can take a GOOD photo. It’s like saying “anyone can cook a meal” sure … but not everyone is good enough to be a chef in a 5 star french restaurant.

  • EricLefebvre

    I shoot weddings … you hand me a contract like that my rate just tripled or I tell you to go **** yourself.

    And we aren’t free to sell the pictures … unless you signed a sweeping model release as part of the contract, I can;t use these images commercially … I can sell prints as art, I can use them for editorial work, I can enter them in to contests, I can use them for self promotion … but I can’t sell them (at least, not the images with identifiable people in them) to a florist shop to be used in their advertising for example.

  • Jonathan Timar


    You are either a complete idiot or a troll, and you obviously know nothing about photography or the concept of intellectual property in general.

  • Ottmar Bierwagen

    What about the staff news photographers? America has a work for hire policy. Will this new bill allow news photographers to keep their copyright?

  • UNIQ.images

    Well. I have ALWAYS owned mine, whether the law states I do or not, it’s my art, my creation. No one could deny otherwise.

  • Kathy

    HAHA someones mad

  • Kathleen

    Yes it is unfair that Canadian photographers didn’t own the copyright to their photos automatically.

  • sero.evo

    It would be Photoshop for the example.

    That said, most people with just Photoshop DO think they’re designers, including people in other artistic fields, be it photographers, game developers, etc.

    You can always tell by the typography. Untrained designers always suck with typography.

  • Vitalia Daza

    LOL the creator? no, the person with money. if he was the creator, he wouldn’t have needed the photographer.

  • Vitalia Daza

    yes, YOU hire someone to take photos of YOUR business. Your business is YOURS, the photos that the photographer took are HIS creation and no one else’s. After you have paid the photographer for HIS time being there doing things for YOU, you will then pay him money to use it for making money for YOUR business. There will be rights to how long you can use it, how you can use it and this protects you and the photographer. However, to deny the creator of the image as you suggest, is plain ignorance. So yes, if you want to be considered the creator of your business images, best buy a camera and be prepared to fail in your marketing and branding unless you’re willing to invest a lifetime of time in learning the craft and spending copious amounts of money getting there. Good luck in your new endeavours as a photographer.

  • Vitalia Daza

    exactly, photos you ordered….If you don’t order anything from your wedding pictures with money than you shouldn’t get anything unless it’s in your contract/invoice as to what you receive after the wedding that is included in the package as this is in addition to the time you paid your photographer to be there documenting your day and spending time taking care of you prior to the wedding and after, including culling, editing and designing. Hiring a photographer for their time to be there is very different from ordering the same photographer the images to be delivered as a product. ie; digital files, proof prints, wall art and albums. If the photographer doesn’t have a contract, they’re likely not a professional. Watch out for them, they have contracts not only to protect themselves from clients who demand free stuff and unreasonable requests like photoshopping fake backgrounds of a tropical place for free (I’ve had this request haha) but also protect the client from photographers who do not fulfill their end of the bargain. so really, this new law which I have been fighting for too doesn’t affect the person hiring at all but protects the creator of the images as the sole creator.

  • a_w_young

    C-11 is a horrid piece of legislation with some upsides. Omnibus bills are a terrible way to go, as things like this are items that a lot of folks are happy about, but we had to accept a lot of terrible things along with it.

  • captaindash

    The age of photographic consent for nudies is 18 if I’m not mistaken. The age of sexual consent is younger in Canada. That means you have have sex with someone 17 yrs 364 days old, but if you take a cheesy black and white artsy picture of their junk before you start you go to jail for child porn. The very next day? Go right ahead. It is no longer “wrong” the very next day. Weird.

  • Guest

    What is the impact on journalistic photography in Quebec. Can we take pictures of peoples’ faces again?

  • [email protected]

    Okay, what about street photography in Québec? Does this trump that idiotic court ruling from a few years ago?

  • JGSR

    In Quebec people own a copyright to their faces. (Weird.) So whose copyright “wins” in photographic depictions of people in La Belle Province?

  • hcciam

    So, in order for a busn to protect itself when hiring a photographer, a legal agreement has to be drafted by a lawyer, which now increases the price of everything. Without such a “contract”, the busn puts itself at risk since the photographer COULD sell the photos to his competition without the busn’s consent.
    There’s a really fine line here. I understand that the photographer needs to keep his “rights”, his “artistic property”, but he never would have had access to, or been inspired or even considered such work unless the busn paid them.
    I hire a contractor to design and build me a house. Who owns the house? Who owns the design? Who paid for what?
    I hire a painter to create and paint a mural on my wall? Do they now own my wall?

  • hcciam

    I’m not being greedy or narrow. How would you like pictures of YOUR busn showing up in someone else’s busn marketing because the busn owner has no control over those pictures? I’d be really pissed if pictures of my work were promoting my competition.
    The fact we need “contracts” is so lawyers can make money, another money suck.
    Of course it helps the “small photographer’s busn”. thats a given. The contracting busn is investing money in that person’s busn with the hope of getting something they can use to make more profit. Like most things, if one or both are not ethical, it could go sideways really quick, which I’m sure has happened many times in the US, to the detriment of all.

  • Chris Jensen

    Consider the instance of a still photog on a movie set…after the production team creates the “image” …sets, costumes, lights, actors, scene etc. the stills guy comes in, points his camera at whatever is there and pushes the button…he should own the copyright?

  • David Cartier

    I’ve heard that it’s technically illegal to take pictures of a baby naked in a bath, in Canada. That is by no means the case down here.

  • Billy Kidd

    Wrong analogy – movies are mass produced, not made specifically for one person or business. A photographer selling prints of landscape or something he shot (while not comissioned by anyone) is entitled to rights to those photos but if someone commissions him/her then that’s like hiring a contractor – the commissioner would own the rights to the final product, not the contractor (so he/she can sell it to competition or in open market).

  • Eddie Smith

    From a photographers perspective we need contracts to sop people from stealing from us, for commercial work it’s a pretty simple licensed usage contract that limits usuage (perhaps for the photographer it may be limited to portfolio or no use for an agreed term. you get what you pay for pal

  • Eddie Smith

    It need not be drafted by a lawyer the terminology is simple for the most part

  • Eddie Smith

    it would depend on the contract you have – given the staff photographer job is rapidly disappearing in favour of freelance it will be moot. My guess is if you are provided equipment and a salary then you are signing away the rights for that (it’s usually that way) If you are freelancing then you can have clauses limiting the purchase (for a really hot item either big $ for exclusive rights, or lesser $ with the ability to continue to sell it)

  • Doug Muir

    This is awesome news. Your content belongs to you.

  • Dustin Wagner

    See as I am aware of the laws, I wouldn’t have that happen, having written up a proper contract.

    You really need to be less ignorant.

  • Dave Reyno

    Troll fail Bartek! As photographers we bring a little bit of ourselves into each image. Yes we create images for other people to be able to survive in the structure of society. But we are the artist and the result is our creation make no mistake. As a Canadian professional photographer of 22 years I say about time :)

  • Bartek Nowakowski

    Haha, I remember a time when people still recognized irony when they saw it. What a great reaction.

  • Bartek Nowakowski

    Haha, judging by all of these replies, I’d say total troll win. Have you guys been living under a rock? This was a comment on the ridiculousness of certain Americans defending corporations because they are “job creators”.

  • James J.J. Trickington

    Your “copyright” is only as good as your ability to pay for a lawyer to enforce it in court. This is a small win, ask any musician about enforcing copyright if you belong to small label or are independent.

  • Worried Client

    So, if I hire a photographer for a wedding or event, the photographer has the rights to publish those anywhere, or even sell it, or make prints and give it away as now he owns them? That breaches a clients compete privacy! How can we even sign up with photographers to shoot our personal moments in life? I wouldn’t trust anyone by then!

  • Drew

    Illegal but many parents do it anyway. They just make a point of keeping half the kid underwater :P I know my parents took much more embarrassing photos of me than ones in the bath.

  • Summer Coley-Ward

    As @disqus_FO9PhdYtlu:disqus said, you can usually draft-up something straightforward yourself. Start with a casual discussion with your photographer. Many photographers will have their own contract at hand. If not, knowing what questions to ask, and outlining your concerns/requirements is a good start. Don’t overthink it, but be sure to sort out the particulars beforehand.Freelancers and photographers are business people too.

    Regarding your other questions – If you buy a product, you own rights to use that one specific item, but you do not have rights to the patent. Or, when you enjoy a meal at a restaurant, you’re granted the right to consume, but not ownership of the recipe. When dealing with intangibles or bespoke products/services, the line can seem fuzzy, but both parties need a win/win transaction. Just choose your photographers/freelancers based on your personal needs/requirements. : )

  • Mike Balls

    Is this retroactive? There is some footage I shot a few years ago that was promptly taken away from me after the shoot. I would love to see it again. In fact, I never got to see it in the first place :(

  • Annie Watts

    what about personal pictures in Facebook, etc…. that people steal from you?

  • iAwani

    i hope the same law can be applied to Malaysians.. and the rest of the world (or is it just in my dream).

  • PMaz

    Pretty sure the Facebook rights to use and abuse are limited to Facebook. In other words, Facebook can still host your images no matter what, but its user cannot host said images on other domains.

  • Rob Elliott

    Books cost nothing to reproduce. Therefore, they are not scarce and hence not property. Authorizing the government to prevent others from using books merely stifles creativity and productivity and burdens the government with more law enforcement costs.

    If you want to profit from your books, develop a technology to prevent them from being copied at zero cost.

    Yep still sounds stupid…

    Insert Movies, Music, Software, and Art still stupid.

    What stifles creativity is having no rights and thus producing no work.