Copyright:
Ownership

Summary | Who | Others | Where | Duration Transfer

Summary

Summary text here.

Who

PhotographerIf you take a photo for yourself, you own the copyright.ownership
EmployeeIf you take a photo as part of a full-time job, your employer owns the copyright.work made for hire
HiredIf you are a wedding or event photographer; a volunteer for a school paper; or you get hired as an independent photographer, you own the copyright unless you sign it away in a written contact.work made for hire
ModelIf you are a person in a photograph, the photographer (not you) owns the copyright, unless agreed otherwise in writing.models
PaintingIf you paint a photo, or you photograph some artwork, you own the copyright in your work but not in the underlying work, so you may need permission to sell your work.derivative work

Who owns the copyright of a photo?

If you took a photo for yourself, you own the copyright.

“The owner of the ‘work’ is generally the photographer or, in certain situations, the employer of the photographer.”
U.S. Copyright Office

“Copyright in a work protected under this title vests initially in the author or authors of the work.”
17 USC §201(a)

“[when a photograph is taken] the copyright immediately becomes the property of the author who created the work.”
U.S. Copyright Office, Circular 9, Reviewed 04/2010

I am not a U.S. citizen; can I still get copyright?

“Copyright protection is available for all unpublished works, regardless of the nationality or domicile of the author.”
U.S. Copyright Office, Circular 1

I took a photo and posted it on the Internet. Does it have copyright?

“Copyright protects “original works of authorship” that are fixed in a tangible form of expression. The fixation need not be directly perceptible so long as it may be communicated with the aid of a machine or device.”
U.S. Copyright Office, Circular 1

Can someone else claim copyright of my work?

“Only the author [of the work] or those deriving their rights through the author can rightfully claim copyright.”
U.S. Copyright Office, Circular 1

Working with Others

2. Joint Work

With someone else.

“The authors of a joint work are coowners of copyright in the work.”
17 USC §201(a)

What if I submit a photograph to a magazine or book?

If your photo is in a book, you own the copyright of your photo, and the publisher owns the copyright to the parts of the book that they contributed (not your photo).

“Copyright in each separate contribution to a periodical or other collective work is distinct from copyright in the collective work as a whole and vests initially with the author of the contribution.”
U.S. Copyright Office, Circular 1

“Copyright in each separate contribution to a collective work is distinct from copyright in the collective work as a whole, and vests initially in the author of the contribution. .. the owner of copyright in the collective work is presumed to have acquired only the privilege of reproducing and distributing the contribution as part of that particular collective work, any revision of that collective work, and any later collective work in the same series.”
17 USC §201(a)

“If you have written an article, column, or short story that has been published in a magazine, newspaper, or other periodical, you may make a separate registration for your work. This kind of work is called a “contribution to a collective work.””
U.S. Copyright Office, FL-104, Reviewed 01/2011

“Under the present copyright law, the copyright in a separate contribution to a published collective work such as a periodical is distinct from the copyright in the collective work as a whole. In the absence of an express transfer from the author of the individual article, the copyright owner in the collective work is presumed to have acquired only the privilege of using the contribution in the collective work and in subsequent revisions and later editions of the collective work.”
U.S. Copyright Office, FL-104, Reviewed 01/2011

What if I submit my photo to a microstock site or competition?

You own the copyright, unless you sign it away in writing. When you submit your work online or to publications, you generally permit a non-exclusive license to use your work for their purposes, but you still retain overall copyright. If a microstock company licenses your work, the client also gets a non-exclusive license (unless agreed otherwise).

I am employee, who gets the copyright?

“In the case of a work made for hire, the employer or other person for whom the work was prepared is considered the author for purposes of this title, and, unless the parties have expressly agreed otherwise in a written instrument signed by them, owns all of the rights comprised in the copyright.”
17 USC §201(b)

What is a work made for hire?

“Although the general rule is that the person who creates the work is its author, there is an exception to that principle. The exception is a work made for hire, which is a work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment or a work specially ordered or commissioned in certain specified circumstances. When a work qualifies as a work made for hire, the employer, or commissioning party, is considered to be the author.”
U.S. Copyright Office, FAQ

See work made for hire.

Models

I am in a photography; don’t I own some part of the copyright?

You own your likeness (see publicity) and the photograph can’t sell the photos without getting your permission. But the photographer owns the copyright to the photos.

“The subject of the photograph generally has nothing to do with the ownership of the copyright in the photograph.”
U.S. Copyright Office

Where

Where does my copyright apply?

In the U.S., copyright is a federal statute, so it applies across the country. In most other countries, copyright is also a national law.

Does my copyright apply in other countries?

“There is no such thing as an “international copyright” that will automatically protect an author’s writings throughout the world. Protection against unauthorized use in a particular country depends on the national laws of that country. However, most countries offer protection to foreign works under certain conditions that have been greatly simplified by international copyright treaties and conventions.”
U.S. Copyright Office, FL-100

Duration

How long does my copyright last? (When does my copyright expire?)

“A work that was created (fixed in tangible form for the first time) on or after January 1, 1978, is automatically protected from the moment of its creation and is ordinarily given a term enduring for the author’s life plus an additional 70 years after the author’s death.”
U.S. Copyright Office, Circular 1

What happens upon my death? Who gets the copyright?

“A copyright may also be conveyed by operation of law and may be bequeathed by will or pass as personal property by the applicable laws of intestate succession.”
U.S. Copyright Office, Circular 1

“Copyright is a personal property right, and it is subject to the various state laws and regulations that govern the ownership, inheritance, or transfer of personal property as well as terms of contracts or conduct of business.”
U.S. Copyright Office, Circular 1

Transfer

Someone bought a photo from me, do they get the copyright?

“Mere ownership of a book, manuscript, painting, or any other copy or phonorecord does not give the possessor the copyright. The law provides that transfer of ownership of any material object that embodies a protected work does not of itself convey any rights in the copyright.”
U.S. Copyright Office, Circular 1

What if the photographer died, who owns the copyright then?

“The ownership of a copyright may be transferred in whole or in part by any means of conveyance or by operation of law, and may be bequeathed by will or pass as personal property by the applicable laws of intestate succession.”
17 USC §201(d)(1)

“A transfer of copyright ownership, other than by operation of law, is not valid unless an instrument of conveyance, or a note or memorandum of the transfer, is in writing and signed by the owner of the rights conveyed or such owner’s duly authorized agent.
17 USC §204 (a)

Are copyrights transferable?

“Yes. Like any other property, all or part of the rights in a work may be transferred by the owner to another.”
U.S. Copyright Office, FAQ

Do I have to submit a form to transfer a copyright?

“There are no forms provided by the U.S. Copyright Office to effect a copyright transfer. The Office does, however, keep records of transfers if they are submitted to the Office.”
U.S. Copyright Office, FAQ

License

“A nonexclusive license, whether recorded or not, prevails over a conflicting transfer of copyright ownership if the license is evidenced by a written instrument signed by the owner of the rights licensed or such owner’s duly authorized agent, and if:

  • (1) the license was taken before execution of the transfer; or
  • (2) the license was taken in good faith before recordation of the transfer and without notice of it.

17 USC §205 (e)

How do I license my copyright?

“Transfers of copyright are normally made by contract.”
U.S. Copyright Office, Circular 1

If I transfer my copyright, do I have to tell the copyright office?

“The Copyright Office does not have any forms for such transfers. The law does provide for the recordation in the Copyright Office of transfers of copyright ownership.”
U.S. Copyright Office, Circular 1

Someone claims I gave them copyright of my photos, but I did not sign a contract.

“..the transfer of exclusive rights is not valid unless that transfer is in writing and signed by the owner of the rights conveyed or such owner’s duly authorized agent.”
U.S. Copyright Office, Circular 1

Do I have to get permission in writing to use a photo?

“Transfer of a right on a nonexclusive basis does not require a written agreement.”
U.S. Copyright Office, Circular 1

Can I sell my copyright?

“Any or all of the copyright owner’s exclusive rights or any subdivision of those rights may be transferred, but the transfer of exclusive rights is not valid unless that transfer is in writing and signed by the owner of the rights conveyed or such owner’s duly authorized agent.”
U.S. Copyright Office, Circular 1

Part 1: Copyright
1.6 Ownership:
International

“There is no such thing as an “international copyright” that will automatically protect an author’s writings throughout the world. Protection against unauthorized use in a particular country depends on the national laws of that country. However, most countries offer protection to foreign works under certain conditions that have been greatly simplified by international copyright treaties and conventions. There are two principal international copyright conventions, the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (Berne Convention) and the Universal Copyright Convention (UCC). The United States became a member of the Berne Convention on March 1, 1989. It has been a member of the UCC since September 16, 1955.”
U.S. Copyright Office, FL-100

“Generally, the works of an author who is a national or domiciliary of a country that is a member of these treaties or works first published in a member country or published within 30 days of first publication in a Berne Convention country can claim protection under the treaties. There are no formal requirements in the Berne Convention. Under the UCC, any formality in a national law can be satisfied by the use of a notice of copyright in the form and position specified in the UCC. A UCC notice should consist of the symbol © (C in a circle) accompanied by the year of first publication and the name of the copyright proprietor (example: © 2006 John Doe). This notice must be placed in such a manner and location as to give reasonable notice of the claim to copyright. Since the Berne Convention prohibits formal requirements that affect the “exercise and enjoyment” of the copyright, the United States changed its law on March 1, 1989, to make the use of a copyright notice optional.”
U.S. Copyright Office, FL-100

“Copyright ownership is shown by (1) proof of originality and copyrightability and (2) compliance with the applicable statutory requirements.”
Compaq Computer v. Ergonome, 2004

“Ownership of a valid copyright encompasses originality, copyrightability, and compliance with statutory formalities.”
— Rogers v. BBB Houston, 2011

Ownership, people

“The term ‘authorship’ implies that, for a work to be copyrightable, it must owe its origin to a human being. Materials produced solely by nature, by plants, or by animals are not copyrightable.”
U.S. Copyright Office, Compendium II of Copyright Office Practices, §202.02(b) Human author

Next: Work Made for Hire »

Next page: Derivative Work

Comments

Comments


Reply by Anonymous

December 6, 2016

A new employee brought in their own headshot photo. I used the photo on a postcard to promote his hire to his friends and family. Two weeks later I received a bill. Do I have to pay him?

Does he have a right to do this? Are we libel? Do the employees who had their photos have any infringe or action against the photographer?


Reply by Anonymous

September 20, 2016

My mother took my picture w/a famous artist about 52 years ago. She died 48 years ago. Last year I found out a man who sells prints by this artist was selling copies of this photo that I thought had been lost. He claims he got the photo from the estate of a woman who was a friend of my mother. My mother introduced this woman to the artist. My mother also took photos of my sister with this artist however I don’t know if she has the pictures or not. Apparently my mother shared at least one photo with this friend and her photos were always processed as slides not prints. Your thoughts on who owns this picture now?


Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

November 15, 2016

Hi person whose mother knew a famous artist,

If the photo was taken circa 1964 and was not published, then you own the copyright (assuming you inherited your mother’s estate).

“The law automatically gives federal copyright protection to works that were

created but neither published nor registered before January 1, 1978. The duration

of copyright in these works is generally ... life plus 70 years...

U.S. Copyright Office

If the man is selling prints, then that would likely be copyright infringement and you could demand payment. Contact a local attorney for specific advice.


Reply by Anonymous

August 9, 2015

What if you’re getting divorced. Does the copyright to the photographs you took while married also extend to your soon-to-be ex-spouse?


Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

January 13, 2016

Divorce and copyright law conflict somewhat, but case law seems to favor copyrights being shared by the ex-spouses.

In some states such as California, I believe that copyright is a community property and thus would extend to the soon-to-be ex-spouse (unless stated otherwise in a divorce agreement). However, this could potentially be overruled by the U.S. Copyright Act which states “Copyright ... vests initially in the author ... of the work.”

The situation does not appear to be settled, but may favor community property:

“a copyright is separate property of the author spouse”

— Rodrigue vs. Rodrigue (55 F.S.2d 534 (E. District La. 1999))

“... the earnings and profits of the copyright ... [can be] enjoyed by the ... former spouses in community as co-owners of equal, undivided interests.”

— Rodrigue vs. Rodrigue appeal (218 F.3d 432 (2000))

“This appeal presents the novel issue whether the marital community has an interest in a copyright. We conclude that it does. ...copyrights ... [are] divisible community assets ... both parties are entitled to share equally in any of the proceeds.”

—In re Marriage of Worth (1987)

For more information, see Ivan Hoffman.

Note that I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice; consult a copyright attorney and divorce attorney for advice.


Reply by Ben Mueller

June 26, 2015

Hello,

I hired a professional freelance photographer for my company to take some pictures of our products for a magazine and of some staff to be used in an interview. Now, I would like to use the pictures for another publication as well. Do I have to pay the photographer again for that use or do I need his permission or are the photographs in my ownership because we paid him for taking the pictures before?

Also I would be interested, if the regulation is generally the same worldwide / in EU and US or if there are significant differences.

Thanks!


Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

January 6, 2016

Hi Ben,

Good question. Generally, a freelance photographer owns the copyright in the photos. Thus you would likely need permission from the photographer to use the pictures again.

>Do I need his permission? Yes

>Do I have to pay the photographer again for that use? If the photographer says so.

>Are the photographs in my ownership because we paid him for taking the pictures before? No.

Next time, make a written agreement with the photographer, transferring the copyright to you, or at least giving you permission to use the photos in any way. Such a contract is typical for photographers doing product shots and/or staff headshots.

I do not know the actual laws but I imagine that the basic principal probably applies worldwide, as most countries are signatories to the international Berne Convention.

For more information, see work made for hire.


Reply by Organisemoi1@gmail.com

May 1, 2014

Who owns the rights to pictures taken at fundraiser events as a volunteer for a non-profit organization with their personal camera?


Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

October 8, 2014

The photographer.


Reply by Breeze

March 25, 2014

my wedding photographer took our photos for free. Now she want $500 or want give me my photos what can I do. Do I have the rights to them or not.


Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

March 25, 2014

WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHER

Hi,

Unfortunately she owns the copyright to the images — and she possesses the data files of the images. If you had something in writing to support your position, you could take her to small-claims court, for a broken contract. Presumably though she expected something in return for taking the photos. Perhaps you could just pay up, as $500 sounds a good price for wedding photos.

Andrew


Reply by Kim C

March 18, 2013

The other day I was trying to take a photo of myself but it was of my back so it was difficult for me to get it positioned and focused just how I wanted it. So I asked my friend for help. I showed him what I had taken so far and explain to him what I actually wanted. So he got it positioned and focused for me and HE hit the shutter button. So does that mean he gets the copyrights to the photo even though the concept was mine?

Thanks for your time,

Kim


Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

January 13, 2016

Yes. He took the photo so he gets the copyright.


Reply by Randy Davis

January 27, 2013

Have created the copy rights required, how do you in force your rights on line when you open your own web sight?


Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

March 5, 2013

ENFORCE COPYRIGHTS ONLINE

Hi Randy:

There are several ways to protect your photos online. See Protect Photos Online.

For information on enforcing your rights, see Copyright Infringement. The easiest way to enforce your rights online is to submit a DMCA takedown notice which is a form of cease-and-desist letter.

Best wishes,

Andrew


Reply by Isidor Montoya

January 15, 2013

So I took a photograph and posted it on the Internet and since then it has become very popular with more then half a million likes. I want to copyright my photo so I can try to make some finances off what I have created. I was wondering what would be the best rout for me to take?


Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

January 15, 2013

BEST ROUTE TO TAKE

Hi Isidor,

Congratulations on getting so many likes.

The photo is already copyright — that is automatic. For extra protection, you can register your copyright. You can do that online at copyright.gov for about $35 (one fee for almost any number of photos in one group).

To sell your photos, you could try the easiest approach which is microstock. Click here for a list of the Top 10 microstock sites. I use Shutterstck and Dreamstime but they’re all good and it’s your choice.

Andrew


Reply by Nab

December 1, 2012

Hi

I have read online that I should have a consent form from the people that I photograph. An di also have to have a consent from the owners of the buildings I photograph. If that is the case then if I shoot a cityscape does that mean I need to have permission from all the building owners in the photograph?

Kindly clarify

Thanks


Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

December 3, 2012

CITYSCAPE PERMISSION

Hi Nab,

That is a logical question.

No, you do not need permission for a cityscape.

You might need permission for a building if it is the primary subject of your photo and your usage may upset the owner or you were on their property. But if the bulding is not the primary subject and is just part of a group, photographed from a public viewpoint, then you are generally OK.

Best wishes,

Andrew


Reply by Glen T

October 7, 2012

a photographer photographs some artwork, you own the copyright in your work but not in the underlying work,

This is incorrect. Bridgeman Art Library vs Corel Corp 1998 pertains to phonorecording or shooting original art in order to create a photographic copy. For any copyright their must be originality of work. Mere copying of an of say artwork to generate a photographic copy image by photographer doesn’t constitute a copyright of that image for the photographer. However, if the art was photographed along with some surrounding staging that was of an original nature by the photographer then their is grounds for a derivative work


Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

October 26, 2012

BRIDGEMAN ART LIBRARY

Hi Glen:

Good point about Bridgeman. There are over 20 exceptions to copyright law, one of which is originality. As Bridgeman pointed out, a photograph needs to have some amount of originality for it to gain copyright protection — mere “slavish copying” does not pass that threshold. I have more on this subject at originality and Case law: Originality.

Andrew


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