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Copyright is key to photographer earnings

6 July 2010

A new survey has shown that retaining copyright could be one of the best business decisions that freelance or self-employed photographers make. The survey results show that those freelance photographers who keep their copyright earn on average 33.2% more than those who routinely give their copyright to clients.

The recently published British Photographic Council (BPC) industry 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.

John Toner, NUJ freelance organiser and chair of the BPC, 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."

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.

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 copyright belonged to whoever commissioned the photography.

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

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 £3,605 each. But only 30% of these photographers pursued all known 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 that 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 was a threat to their business, with 82% saying their businesses would be adversely affected by similar additional legislation.

The survey reveals a predominantly male industry, with less 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.

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 with an equivalent salary.

61% of photographers surveyed said that photography was their sole source of earned income, with almost one in five professionals saying that photography was not their main source of income. Only a third of respondents said they had spent 91% or more of their working life as a photographer.

John Toner added:

"We believe the findings of this survey are crucial for anyone seeking to understand the photography industry in this country. Photography is important to the cultural life of our citizens, and legislators would ignore these findings at their peril."

Tags: , earnings, photographers, copyright, freelance, orphan works