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Getting over the fear of copyright in photoshoots

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Copyright is scary. Really scary. At least it used to be!

As an interior stylist who produces photoshoots for some of the country’s biggest magazines and commercial brands, getting the shots right is a must. Throw in the worry of including something in those shoots that has copyright attached to it, and you don’t have permission to use it, then the dread of being sued really sets in.

This is a fear shared by many of us in the industry, but thankfully Margaret Haig, Head of Copyright Operations at the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) was on hand to help!

A bed with orange cushion and yellow throw, a patterned headboard, picture of a bee on the wall and bright orange coloured lamp on bedside table
Guy Allen Art at KD Loves, photography Jon Aaron Green

Setting the scene

Imagine a commercial brand’s Christmas photoshoot. The company sell homewares and lots of Christmas decorations. As an interior stylist, you work with a team to take what is essentially an empty shell of a location house - white walls, white floors, bare windows - and bring in all the elements to make it look like a cosy, winter home. At 9am on shoot day the courier arrives with a Luton van full of carpet, wallpaper, furniture, curtains, lighting, accessories, a Christmas tree and of course all the products from the brand that you’re going to shoot.

Most of these items are hired from prop houses. We pay to hire them and if there’s art - which there always is - it has a sticker saying, 'cleared for TV use'. We trust that sticker but maybe we shouldn’t?

We get to work making the room look like a beautiful real home. The photographer comes in and takes the shots then at 5pm we take it all down, pack up the boxes, remove the wallpaper and paint the walls back to white ready for the next shoot.

It’s fast paced. It’s lots of boxes, lots of organising and lots of stress. But it’s also masses of fun. Apart from the copyright law that means every piece of 'designer' furniture, craftsmanship and art must be checked for copyright.

Where did this fear start?

A few years ago, a group of interior stylists got together to talk about producing a contract to make sure we were covered when it came to the new copyright laws that had come in. Word had it that stylists were considered 'the weakest link' on a shoot.

There was one example of this that really stuck in our minds. A brand asked their Public Relations Department to arrange a photoshoot. They hired a photographer, an interior stylist, a set builder, a shoot location and everyone else needed to run a photoshoot.

The shots were taken.

A sideboard with blue vases to the left, an open book in the middle and minimalistic lamp to the right, with a painting of a beach on the wall behind it
Five-Finger-Strand Art by Emma Twedie Art

They looked great but there was one big problem once they were published. The art used in the shoot was protected by copyright and a lawsuit was brought against the brand. The blame was passed down until it reached the stylist. Why? Well, apart from the fact that the stylist had chosen the piece of art and was unaware of the copyright law at the time, she also didn’t have insurance and everyone else on the shoot did. She was sued and had to pay out a huge amount of money. That was the start of the copyright fear for every stylist in the land.

Learning from other’s lessons

That was a few years ago. Now, having set up to promote the editorial and commercial world, it was time to really understand the legal side of copyright and how these laws directly affect photoshoots. I’ve read a lot of features about copyright but I was keen to understand how the rules directly impact our industry and have them explained in a really easy to understand way.

I was lucky enough to interview Margaret for a podcast and get answers to all the burning questions the members of Inside Stylists had. These ranged from how to use art, to how much of a magazine you can share on your social media channels.

It turns out copyright isn’t all that scary after all. You just need to know the rules, do your due diligence and double check everything. This can include checking whether the piece of art you’re using for a shoot or the furniture you’re hiring from a prop house is cleared for use. We are the ones who must double check everything. That’s just how it is. A new part of the job.

I set up an artist’s list on the website full of art which the creators are happy to loan or hire for shoots, to help stylists find the right piece for a shoot. But there is so much more we need to be aware of and that is all answered in the podcast.

A double bed with mocha coloured bedding, with a picture hanging above it
Art by Kerry Hussain - Fortitude collection

I’d like to say a massive thank you to Margaret for not only sharing her time and her knowledge but for doing it in such an easy to understand way. She completely took away the fear many stylists have about what the rules are, now we can focus on getting creative!

To learn more about the different areas of IP, including copyright, try our free interactive learning tool, IP Equip.



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