Copyright Law for Photography in the UK

In the UK, The Copyright Designs and Patent Act 1988 forms the basis for copyright protection of creative works including photographic images.


Copyright is an automatic legal right which protects artistic works including photography. This means that the person who took the photograph is the copyright owner. Others may only use the copyrighted work with the permission of the copyright owner. Anyone who uses a photograph without the copyright owner’s consent can be guilty of infringement and action could be taken against them.

The copyright on a photograph generally lasts 70 years after the death of the person who created the copyrighted work.

Copyright infringement includes copying, issuing, performing, broadcasting, storing electronically, posting on the internet or adapting the work. If any of these are carried out without the copyrighter owners content then infringement has occurred and the copyrighter may take action.


1)      If the photographer is being paid by someone else to take photographs, copyright ownership will not be affected.

2)      If the photographer is taking photographs in the capacity of an employee, then the copyright will belong to the employer, unless there is a contract to specify otherwise. If the photographer is working for someone on a freelance basis then the copyright belongs to the photographer.

3)      If more than one person created the photograph, for example, joint decision-making regarding lighting, composition, exposure, and their contributions are not distinct then the copyright is equally shared. It lasts for 70 years after the death of the last surviving creator of the said photograph.

4)      A photograph which is digitally altered by someone other than the photographer will be an infringement of copyright.  If however the photograph is altered, with permission of the copyright owner, and it is altered significantly, then this could create a second separate copyright for the altered image.

5)      Taking a photograph of a trade mark could infringe the rights of the trade mark owner. However if it is simply in the background of for example a street scene then it is unlikely to cause problems.

6)       If a photograph is taken of a famous painting, then the copyright still belongs to the photographer. However if the painting is still in copyright and is taken without permission then the photograph and its copyright will infringe the copyright of the painting, although this has not been tested in a UK court.

7)      Property owners cannot prevent photographer from taking photographs of their property or land if they are taken from public land. Shopping centres are privately owned but open to the public and therefore the owners may restrict photography if they wish to. Certain public areas such as Trafalger Square, where professional photographers are not permitted to take photographs without a permit.

8)      If the copyright owner is not known or difficult to determine, but the photograph is still in copyright then the photograph is called an “orphan work”.

9)      The Copyright Designs and Patents Act states that when a copyright exists on architecture, then taking a photograph of it will not infringe copyright.

10)   There is no specific law regarding photographing children. It is ethical to ask the parents of guardians before taking photographs of children. Schools and local authorities have their own child protection policies, and also data protection would come into play if children were identifiable in photographs.

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