Primer: Copyright For Photographers

Photo By Barry Schwartz

The Copyright Alliance recently put together a pretty comprehensive and easy-to-understand series of articles on copyright for photographers. Loads of reliable information based on experience and the law, not opinion (including when the law is based on opinions!). It’s less confusing than I’ve made it sound.

It’s easy – and free! – to join up and get the newsletter and access to lots of information, including practical, contractual issues, dealing with clients and courts, legislative issues, and insights about all things copyright for photographers and other creative-types, including clear information on what is to a creator’s advantage and what is not. And, of course, great tutorials on the brand-new CCB – Copyright Claims Board.

When Work Begins Again

Boboli Gardens, Pitti Palace, Florence, Italy.
Photo By Barry Schwartz

The photography industry may start to open before too long.  While photographers’ skillset is unique, they will not be unusual in what they will be required to do after they go back to work. What is safe?  What is dangerous?  How does the Covid-19 shutdown affect pricing and scheduling?  When will things get back to normal?

That last one – about “normal” – is the easiest to answer: No one knows.  Maybe this year, but probably not.  Barring an usually rapid development of a vaccine, life may be better by the end of the year, but not normal.  Employee, business owner, politician, scientist, doctor will know after it’s over, not before.   In the meantime, there is plenty of good guidance from reliable sources on how to move forward as safely as possible to protect ourselves and those around us.

Anyway, it’s not for photographers to decide.  States and local municipalities make the rules, whether or not there is agreement with their civic neighbors, or what scientists or doctors advise.  So it is not the photographer’s problem.  They live where they live and work where they work.  Professionals have to abide by governmental directives.

There is plenty of knowledge already in place to help guide photographers in their professional lives. What we know is straightforward and easy to understand.  Don’t get too close to anyone but family or those you already live with; wear a mask in public to protect others in case you are asymptomatic; wash your hands all the time; don’t touch your face; sneeze or cough into a handkerchief or your elbow.  Everyone is stressed out; be extra nice, be extra considerate.  Tip restaurant workers extra well. How does this apply to working on set or on location?  How does it apply to photojournalists who (for the moment) usually work alone?  The behavior we have all been asked to adhere to is not new: it is standard protocol for all epidemics going back many hundreds of years.  It worked before there was the science to back it up, and it works even better now that the science has proven reliable.  Photographers have a bit of an advantage in that they will continue to adhere to common industry safety protocols.  Professional makeup and hair stylists, as a result of training and licensing, have known for years their tools need to be sanitized using autoclaves and barbicide solution – the same as in hospitals and medical offices – in order to not pass infections from one person to another – or to themselves.  They know to wash their hands a lot.  They know to keep cans of disinfectant spray handy.  They know it takes the time it takes, there are no shortcuts. 

Photographers who work in hospital operating rooms are familiar with the specific protocols that environment demands: wear masks, hazmat suits or operating gowns, protective glasses, don’t get too close, wash their hands, don’t work if they are sick.  Photographers who work on industrial sites know they also need to wear masks and protective glasses, but, unlike operating rooms, steel-toed boots.  Photographers who work with models know that, typically by law, they are not allowed to touch the talent. 

These are rules professionals are already guided by.  States and municipalities generate new directives until the pandemic has receded enough, way down the line, for the directives to be removed.  There are liability issues, too, as photographers who have contacted their insurance brokers have probably already discovered, which is that insurance companies are sometimes refusing to cover photographers without the backup of states and municipalities giving the go-ahead.

After they can work again, photographers will be responsible for having conversations with clients to work out safety issues and to encode them contractually.  Planning, of course, is a skill photographers are already familiar with.  They will be able to negotiate terms, but not safety.

Restaurants, grocery stores, mass transit have learned how to operate more safely than before the pandemic.  The science on how to keep ourselves safe, and those we love and work with safe, is public knowledge, and evolving. States and municipalities interpret that science as they see fit. As we hear often these days, we’re all in this together.  That’s not a metaphor.


Following are resources addressing safety for large and small productions or even working alone.  All are subject to change, of course, like everything else.  Check back with them for updates.

The first few resources deal with current knowledge about the virus. Developing a handle on the biology is not difficult (a medical degree is not necessary), and makes it easier to implement safety protocols.


The Risks – Know Them – Avoid Them.  By Dr. Erin Bromage

Nieman Lab – COVID-Explained aims to translate hard science into clear answers to common questions.


COVID-19 Dashboard by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University (JHU)

Covid-19 coverage in The Conversation



CDC guidance on Covid-19

CDC  “Guidance for Implementing the Opening Up America Again Framework” – as of May 7 2020.

CDC – Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) – Cleaning And Disinfecting Your Home

Cal/OSHA Guidance on Requirements to Protect Workers from Coronavirus


County of Los Angeles Dept. of Public Health: Reopening Protocol for Music, Television and Film Production (June 11, 2020 PDF


Washington State Guidance for Resuming Professional Photography

Film Florida – Recommendations for Clean & Healthy Production Sets

European Film Commissions Network

Bulgarian Film Guide



Tom Maddrey, ASMP General Counsel webinar: Safety While Shooting. Includes links to waiver, procedure, and policy templates.

Alliance of Motion Picture and Television ProducersIndustry-Wide Labor- Management Safety Committee Task Force – PDF

PERG Safe Return to Work Guidelines
Precautions for Preventing Transmission of COVID-19 for Camera and Lighting Rental Operations, Sound Stages, and Production Vehicles.

Covid-19 News Organizations Safety Protocols (PDF)

ACOS Alliance Covid-19 Resources

The Everyday Projects Covid-19 Guide for Visual Journalists

SAG-AFTRA – The Safe Way Forward

Space for Arts – Safety Protocols for “Socially Distanced” Photo/Video Productions

Comprehensive guidelines and resources for photography production in Los Angeles/New York in the age of Covid 19

Insights and Advice from a COVID-19 Compliance Officer for Pre-production and Production

Advertising Producers Association (British) 
Look for: APA Covid-19 Guidelines | Coronavirus updates

BECTU Health and safety during COVID-19 – (British union for crew)

Sports Video Group – a vast collection of articles and white papers, including Cleaning & Sanitizing, Crews & Freelancers, and much more.

ProductionHubSafety Guidelines For Filming Interviews And Live Streams During The Covid-19 Crisis, by Jan Klier

AICP – Association of Independent Commercial Producers

Cinematographers Guild Local 600 – Covid-19 Member Resources and Updates

Graphic Artists Guild – Coronavirus Information & Resources

DPA Microphones – Proper Microphone Hygiene


ASMP – The American Society of Media Photographers – WEBINARS & RESOURCES. Most are in front of the paywall, available to the public.

VII Interactive: In Conversation. “How can photographers cover the world’s deadly viruses?” with Nichole Sobecki.  Facebook Live

APA Biz Talk Episode 4 – What Work Looks Like Now & in the Future

APA Biz Talk Episode 5 – Liability & Safety On Set

APA Biz Talk Episode 11 – Implementing Safety on Set

Intro Covid Safer Sets: Infection control Intro- Webinar April 30th 2020,  John Cordes and Samantha Isom