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Do I need permission from the client to photograph a wedding?

Let the client know if you are bringing the entire production crew with you.

Let the client know if you are bringing the entire production crew with you.

So let’s talk about photographing an event as a wedding vendor. The average wedding is considered a private event. And as the host of a private event, the clients control what photography may occur. They’re King of the Castle. The Numero Uno. El Capitan.

All those present, as either a guest or a vendor, are there at the clients’ discretion and prerogative. If the clients do not want photography, then there’s no photography. If someone breaks that rule, what is the final legal conclusion? Well, offenders can go from guest to trespasser and be put out on front street. That is the power of the host. You don’t have to be here, but if you are, you gotta follow rules of the boss, i.e. the client.

The pitfall is not asking for permission up front. Because, vendors, we’re talking bakers, florists, planners, DJs, are generally retained to perform one function at the event. So, photographing a wedding is NOT something that the law automatically allows you to do simply by the fact that you are already there doing your one particular job. Remember, you serve at the discretion of the client, pursuant to the contract. For further info on this, check out this article.

So what can happen if you the vendor fail to get permission to take photos, but you do anyway and use them for sales or marketing? The client will likely have the right not only to kick you to the curb, but to sue you. So how can we avoid getting sued but also get all those pictures that we want?


Incorporate a PHOTOGRAPHY RELEASE into your client contract. A release is the client providing the vendor (1) the right to take the images at the event, and then (2) to utilize the client’s likeness, which appears in the images.

The Client’s likeness? What you talkin’ bout Willis? People have an exclusive right to capitalize or make use of on their own appearance or likeness. It’s why I can’t print all of my pictures of Brad Pitt on a shirt and start selling them. Brad Pitt’s the only one allowed to do that. He has the exclusive right to exploit his likeness, and depending on what state you’re in and how famous your client is, so does your client. So the release allows you to utilize the client’s likeness in certain ways.

Some releases may be broad: “we can use the images for all online marketing purposes, including use on our social media.” Some uses can be very specific, like, “I will be allowed to enter these images into the Bride of Frankenstein Magazine’s Wedding Photo Contest.”

It sounds crazy, but this is very important. A couple months ago, a videographer uploaded to Youtube a funny clip of a drunk groom attempting to take the garter off of the bride. Of course the bride was ‘traumatized’ and sued for intentional infliction of emotional distress in Federal Court. A strong contract saying, I have the right to put your images online, would have almost certainly have prevented this lawsuit. So this is definitely a situation that comes up often that you want to address by having a release.


But what about copyright? The Copyright is a set of rights and protections given to an owner or author of the photograph. The copyright owner has the EXCLUSIVE right to do all kinds of things: publish the photo, distribute it, hang it up on the refrigerator at your momma house, etc.

Are you the copyright owner of an image that you took at a wedding just because YOU took the images, or just because your INTERN took the image, or just because you hired a SET photographer to take the images? Not necessarily.

Generally, he who smelt it dealt it. In other words, generally, and I mean very generally, the person that takes the photograph at the wedding, is the copyright owner of the photograph. Exceptions to this default rule are going to be when there is a contract stating otherwise, or there is an employee-employer relationship. But still, there are grey areas and copyright ownership can get very sticky and complicated.

So it is absolutely critical to deal with copyright ownership in your contracts. For realz. Let’s talk first about contracts with your interns, independent contractors, set photographers that you have hired, your mom, whoever, in any situation where you personally are not hitting the button and taking the photos. In that situation, if you want to own the copyright, you will want the individual taking the photos to “ASSIGN” and “TRANSFER” all of their rights in the image to you. The assignment will go in your contract that you have with them. This ensures that you contracted around the default rule that the smeller’s the feller.

I worked with a vendor once who had all of her interns take pics and such at all the events she did. They were like her social media marketing interns. One of the interns left to start her own company, and used those images. Because the vendor did not have contracts dealing with copyright ownership, she was out of luck. Had she had a written agreement with interns regarding copyright ownership, she could have been the owner, giving her exclusive control over the images. And when you have exclusive ownership over photos, you know what you can do? Send one of those nasty a cease and desist letters.

“Dear Ms. Soon to be Broke, you better take down MY images you ungrateful jezebel. I gave you a break when you were first starting out and this is how you repay me?”

And if that intern doesn’t comply? Federal lawsuit time.

Now, with contracts with your clients it’s the same thing. To cover all your bases, in your CLIENT contract itself, let the client know that you will be the copyright owner of the images taken by you or your team at the event. You can put this in the same section as the release.


To sum up those points, and so that we don’t get confused, think of the release and copyright as two sides of the same coin. If you don’t have copyright ownership or at least a license, then you’re almost certainly going to have no right to use the image AT ALL. If you don’t have a release, and the client appears in the image, then you cannot use it without opening yourself up to liability from various lawsuits based on misappropriation of likeness or similar claims, like the distress lady.

The copyright deals with the legal right associated with the USE of the IMAGE ITSELF, the release deals with the CLIENT’S RIGHT TO USE THEIR OWN LIKENESS as it appears in the image. To be fully protected, you should get both.

How do I conduct a Federal Trademark search?

matt_editedAgain, we are totes excited to have Intellectual Property attorney and guru Matthew Goings of Goings Legal, LLC guest post today!

Matthew Goings is the founder of Goings Legal, LLC, a boutique Intellectual Property law firm located in Atlanta, Georgia representing individuals, start-ups, and small businesses in their intellectual property and contract needs. I know what your thinking: “He was a total band geek.” You are absolutely right. During his time as an undergrad at the University of Georgia, he marched tenor saxophone in the Redcoat Marching Band. He was also a member of the Brotherhood of the music fraternity Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia (sounds like one of those secret societies…).

If you have any questions or concerns about your wedding or event business’ trademarks, copyrights, or other intellectual property, be sure to give him a call.


What is a federal trademark search? What is the trademark application process like and what does it entail?

A federal trademark search at its most basic level is simply conducting a search to see if anyone else has registered a word mark or logo that is similar to the one you want to use. An attorney who is assisting a client through a registration should always conduct a search in order to ensure that both they and the client have done their due diligence. A federal trademark search begins in the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO) online system, Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS), which anyone with internet can access. By searching TESS, you can find marks that are the same, or similar, to your desired mark. It shows marks that are both LIVE (in use) and DEAD (no longer in use). Even if your desired mark does not show up in TESS, it is prudent to at least do a cursory GOOGLE search because someone may have registered it at the state level or have common law rights to the mark. Searches can range from simple elimination searches that look for exact matches to your desired mark to in-depth searches conducted by dedicated services that identify anything remotely related to your desired mark. Most of the time, exhaustive searches of that nature are unnecessary and are usually only used by large corporations to defend their marks.


Conducting a Federal Trademark search is not as tricky as putting out a truck fire, but you may still need some help.

The federal trademark application process can be complicated, and it is best to hire a qualified attorney to assist file the application on your behalf. The process begins by determining if your mark qualifies for federal registration. In order to register federally, you must have already been using the mark in interstate commerce. This means doing business across state lines. For a long time, this meant having to actually have provided services or goods in multiple states, however, with the advances in technology, simply marketing yourself for services in multiple states can qualify as interstate commerce, so long as it is done in good faith (i.e. you would actually travel to the other state to provide goods or services and are not simply advertising simply for the federal mark).
The next step is conducting a search in order to ensure that you desired mark is not already registered. However, a prior registration of your mark does not always preclude you from registering your mark, provided that it is in a different class of goods or services. Take the marks LEXUS and LEXIS. These two trademarks are extremely similar; they only differ by one letter and sound exactly alike, however, they are allowed to co-exist because they encompass different classes. Classes are categories that goods and services are divided into. LEXUS produces cars, while LEXIS provides a legal search engine and other resources.
Once you have cleared your desired mark through a trademark search, you can begin the application process. The USPTO has 4 different applications you can use. One application is called an Intent-to-Use. You would use this type of application only if you have not yet begun using the desired mark but have a good faith intention to use it. Good faith means you actually plan on using the mark and are not just trying to prevent another from using it. The advantage to this application is that it essentially allows you to reserve the mark for up to 3 years without fear of losing it while you develop your product or service. To downside is that it adds more cost the longer you keep up the intent-to-use. The first set of applications cover marks that are already in use. The other 3 applications all apply to when you are actually using the mark, with the only differences being the cost and the amount of information about you and your use required up front. The cheapest of these 3, the TEAS PLUS, comes in at $225, requires the most information, conducts the entire process online, and is generally the fastest of the 3 processes. The other 2 cost $275 and $325 and allow you to provide certain information later in the application process. You will also need to provide a specimen, like a photo of goods bearing your mark, to the USPTO to prove use.
Once you have submitted the trademark application, the USPTO will examine the application and communicate with the attorney regarding the status. At this point, all application processes vary. The office may initially reject your application and require that you disclaim a portion of the mark or change the description of goods for the mark. Disclaiming means that you are giving up the exclusive right to a certain portion of the mark. For example, if your company name uses a term that is common to the wedding industry, the USPTO would likely require that you disclaim rights that word, meaning that it is permissible for another company to use that term without violating your trademark. If and when the USPTO approves your application, it will be published by the USPTO for review by the public. During this period of time, others can oppose your application, meaning they formally tell the USPTO that they should not register your mark. If this happens, the 2 parties go through a process resembling a trial with the USPTO, each making their case on why the mark should or should not be registered. If the mark is not opposed or the USPTO decides against the opposition, your mark will be registered. Once registered, you will enjoy national protection for your mark extending back to the date you applied, and after 5 years of continuous use, your mark becomes incontestable.
While many think the process is over at this point, it is not. You must continue to maintain your registration. So long as your properly maintain your registration, your trademark protection can last as long as it is in use.