Business + Marketing

What Happens When Your Clients Want the RAW Files?

October 24, 2017

By Aaron M. Arce Stark

Photo © Ethan Yang Photography

Has this ever happened to you: Your client wants your RAW files from the wedding you just shot, and he or she says they’ll pay you after the files are sent. Doubly worse, your contract says nothing about RAW files, just that you will deliver “the pictures taken” at the wedding.

Can you withhold the final, unmarked images until he or she pays you? Probably. It depends on the contract you have, but in general, you are free to withhold your final product until you get paid. But what if the client claims that the RAW files are the final product and count as “the pictures taken” as covered by your contract?

First, your contract probably includes a clause stating that you will edit the images before final delivery (and if it doesn’t, it should). You can point to this clause to support the idea that the RAW files are not the finished product, but rather part of your artistic process.

Second, you can point out that even if the contract obliges you to hand over the RAW files, you nevertheless own their copyrights. This means that your client cannot legally “tweak” them as he said he wished to without the copyright holder’s permission. If your contract states that the files were created as a work-for-hire and that the client owns the copyrights, then you have bigger problems, which you should address immediately by hiring an attorney to rewrite your future contracts.

A good contract between photographer and client should state, at a minimum, that 1) the photographer owns the copyrights in all images produced, 2) that only the pictures edited and chosen by the photographer are considered final product, and 3) that no final product will be delivered until the full balance is paid.

Aaron M. Arce Stark is a lawyer for artists and entrepreneurs,

This article is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.