Very often we get asked this question about who own the copyrights on photos. The simple answer is the person, that is a human, who takes the photograph.

As a general rule, photographing others without their consent is prohibited by law. However, since there is no right to privacy in public places such as streets, sidewalks and public parks, you can take pictures, from a public place, of any subject without their consent. On the contrary, on private property you need the owner’s consent. However, in most private places is reasonable assumed that taking photographs is allowed unless explicitly prohibited. One exception though, is that you can take, a photograph of their property from a public place.

In the case of photographs, the owner of the “photo” is generally the photographer (a human) or, in certain situations, the photographer’s employer.

The recent case of Naruto, a crested macaque in Indonesia, ratified that the owner of a copyright must be a “human”. In 2011, Naruto, took several photos of himself (selfies) with a camera belonging to a photographer. The US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s previous ruling affirming the district court’s dismissal of claims brought by a monkey, the panel held that “the animal had constitutional standing but lacked statutory standing to claim copyright infringement of photographs known as the ‘Monkey Selfies”. Naruto v. David John Slater et al, No. 3:2015cv04324 – Document 45 (N.D. Cal. 2016).

The U.S Copyright Office even updated their guidelines to indicate “The U.S. Copyright Office will register an original work of authorship, provided that the work was created by a human being.” Also clarified that “The Office will not register works produced by nature, animals, or plants. Likewise, the Office cannot register a work purportedly created by divine or supernatural beings”.

Copyright law empowers the photographer to sell the image without the consent of the person from whom the photo was taken. Even if a person hires a photographer to take photos of a wedding, for example, the photographer will own the copyrights of the photographs unless the ownership is transferred, in writing, and signed by the copyright owner, to another person.

When a paparazzi takes a photo of a celebrity without their consent, who owns the copyright to the photo?

In accordance with current law, the paparazzi. The author of a copyright is defined as “the creator of the original expression in a work”. Therefore, the person who takes the photograph is the one who has rights to it.

In 2017, Khloé Kardashian was sued for the photos from Xposure, a paparazzi site that took a photo of Khloé while she was with her sister Kourtney. According to Xposure, Khloé republished a photo taken by an Xposure photographer, cutting out the site’s copyright notice. The photographer sued Khloé for copyright infringement, but the case ended when the parties reached an out-of-court settlement. Khloé is estimated to have paid the photographer for the use of her photograph without her consent.

Unauthorized use of someone’s photographs can cost your business a lot of money. I have helped countless small to medium sized businesses navigate the intricacies of copyright and photography law. I’d like to help you too by protecting your photographs before someone uses them without your consent.

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