I worked for a RE Photography business for a year and then bought it outright. Business is going well but I have a question about stock images. We have an extensive stock library from before my time. I understand the Photographer owns the images but does the business also retain full rights? I believe the photographers were 1099 contracted or 1 might even have been an employee. Do I the business still have the right to sell these images?
My plan is to sell limited use packages as an add-on to RE customers when they order a shoot, but also sell individual images at a higher price for unlimited use (useful for agents who sell many homes in the same community).
I know I didn’t sign any work for hire agreements with the company so doubt the others did.
Excellent question! First of all, only one party owns the copyright. Either the photographer or the business. Sounds like a simple question but the definition of what it means to work for hire isn't as straightforward as you would think when there is no signed work for hire agreement. I believe that this Copyright office Circular 09 document has the relevant information but far be it from me to explain what it says and how it applies to your situation. I think since you don't have any work for hire agreements you should have a competent IP attorney interpret what Circular 09 means in your situation.
Gavin's situation is a great example of why all photography businesses that hire contract employees should sign work for hire agreements if they expect to own the copyright to photos their contractors shoot!