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Industry survey: Freelance photographers who keep copyright earn 33% more

6 July 2010 - Nick McGowan-Lowe

Freelance photographers who follow industry best practice on copyright earn on average 33% more a year than those who routinely give their copyright to their clients, according to new research from the British Photographic Council. Report by Nick McGowan-Lowe

The survey was completed by 1,698 photographers working in the UK market who were asked about themselves, their views on copyright, their income and the threats to their businesses.

The thirteen organisations which represent photographers in the UK took part in the survey, including Editorial Photographers UK. The results are believed to be the first time that the value of freelances photographers’ copyright has been calculated.

Freelances who said they retained their copyright reported an average profit of £19,272, compared to £14,471 for those who said that they gave it away by default.

British Photographic Council chair John Toner said: “Copyright is not only the cornerstone of the creative industries, it is the foundation stone of creativity. Without it, creators would find it impossible to survive.”

71% pressured to give up copyright

While the freelances have been the automatic copyright holder of any photographs they produce since the 1988 Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, photographers have reported both coming under pressure to hand over copyright to clients, and losing to work to those photographers who give their copyright to clients.


Download the full survey results from the British Photographic Council website here

Within professional photographers’ organisations such as EPUK, retaining copyright and charging a fee which reflects the license given to the client is seen as a hallmark of professionalism and best practice.

The survey showed nine out of ten freelance photographers keep their copyright rather than assigning it to their clients – despite almost three-quarters saying that they had encountered clients in 2009 who wrongly believed it was automatically theirs.

During 2009, 71% of freelance respondents said they had been asked to give copyright to their clients, and 62% said they were pressured to give clients a more extensive licence for no increase in the fee.

Orphan works opposed by photographers

Three out of every five photographers said they knew of instances where their copyright had been infringed in the previous three years, costing them on average just over £3,600 each.

However, only 30% of these photographers pursued all known infringements, with most citing difficulties in bring legal cases for copyright infringements. Overall, 82% of photographers said their businesses would benefit from a quicker and easier legal redress for copyright infringements.

Just over half of photographers said their businesses would be adversely affected by any ‘orphan works’ legislation – the controversial proposals which would allow photographs to be published without the copyright holder’s permission if the copyright owner could not be identified or traced. An attempt to introduce such legislation in the UK was defeated in the last days of the previous government.

Half of photographers said that current laws affecting photography in public places were a threat to their business, with 82% saying their businesses would be adversely affected by similar additional legislation.

Staff photographers earn 83% more than freelances

The results show a predominantly male industry, with fewer than one in five photographers being female. 91% of professional photographers who responded were freelance, with staff photographers earning significantly more than their freelance colleagues.

Two out of every five photographers are educated to at least degree level – but those with an undergraduate degree were twice as likely to have it in a subject other than photography.

The average salary for a staff photographer was £34,535 – 83% higher than the equivalent average profit for a self-employed photographer of £18,821. 41% of staff photographers were paid between £20,000 and £30,000, compared to just 15% of freelances. Only 19% of freelance photographers made a profit of £30,000 or above, compared to 35% of staff photographers.

“We believe the findings of this survey are crucial for anyone seeking to understand the photography industry in this country”, said British Photographic Council chair John Toner. “Photography is important to the cultural life of our citizens, and legislators would ignore these findings at their peril.”

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