PetaPixel

If a Kid Grabs Your Camera and Snaps a Photo, Who Owns the Copyright?

If a stranger suddenly grabs your camera and takes a photograph, who owns the copyright to that photograph? Photographer Mirjam Letsch writes,

Walking in an Indian bazaar, my Nikon dangling on my shoulder, this boy quickly clicked five times. I really liked the creative result when I later saw these images! Don’t know who owns the copyright though!

This might seem like a pretty farfetched example, but what about a case where you carefully set up and compose a fine art photograph, then for some reason ask a stranger to press the shutter for you?

In just five clicks! (via Techdirt)


 
 
  • chuck

    Well the kid didn’t really contribute to setting up anything to the shot other than just pointing and pushing a button… he didn’t go through the process of setting the camera or composing the image really.

  • http://deansphotos.wordpress.com/ Dean Thompson

    I think in Canada (the law is different here), the law goes to whomever Commissioned the work or whomever pressed the shutter button in a case without anyone to commission the work. I could be wrong.. but it has been awhile since i have looked. Please correct me if you can. 

  • Seriesrover2

    If a stranger grabs the camera without your consent I would consider that theft and all subsequent pictures are under your ownership.  If you set up the shot and asked someone to press the shutter then the person who pressed it owns it – at the end of the day they’re the one who took the shot.  My 2 cents.

  • http://deansphotos.wordpress.com/ Dean Thompson

    Also a second thought. Since the photo was taken in India it would fall under Indian law. So if your looking through your photo law books at home right now you might want to look somewhere else. Unless of coarse you have something on their laws… haha

  • Anonymous

    What’s the problem here – Copyright should be of the person clicking with a motive of clicking. If there is no motive then the camera owner should have the rights unless he/she has lent the camera for shooting.

  • http://profiles.google.com/granttaylorphotos Grant Taylor

    I have always had the opinion that composing the shot is the important part. It doesn’t matter who hit the shutter because that was not the creative part. I do think that these images would belong to the child because he did do all the work. Mirjam Letsch had no creative input into the images. But like with everything else in the world there is a large gray area.

  • http://twitter.com/Myrddon Henning Nilsen

    Didn’t we already have this discussion with the ape self-portrait?

  • http://twitter.com/Myrddon Henning Nilsen

    Didn’t we already have this discussion with the ape self-portrait?

  • Graham Case

    It depends where you are. Copyright in Canada is different than copyright in the US is different than copyright in Australia.

    Lets step back and take a roll of film (whoa!):
    In Canada and the US, I believe copyright belongs to /whoever develops, or pays to develop the roll of film/.

    In Australia, copyright belongs to /whoever presses the shutter button for any particular image/.

    Confusing, right? And that, my friends, is why we have lawyers.

  • Graham Case

    It depends where you are. Copyright in Canada is different than copyright in the US is different than copyright in Australia.

    Lets step back and take a roll of film (whoa!):
    In Canada and the US, I believe copyright belongs to /whoever develops, or pays to develop the roll of film/.

    In Australia, copyright belongs to /whoever presses the shutter button for any particular image/.

    Confusing, right? And that, my friends, is why we have lawyers.

  • Hysyanz

    we did but we’re having it again because a human took the shot this time.

  • Hysyanz

    we did but we’re having it again because a human took the shot this time.

  • Tomkershaw

    The person running the camera on a movie set doesn’t own the copyright

  • http://deansphotos.wordpress.com/ Dean Thompson

    Away from film and in the digital world, in Canada, it’s who ever presses the shutter button, or commissioned the work.

  • http://profiles.google.com/jcornice John Cornicello

    That is usually a “work for hire” situation and needs to be specified in the contract.

  • Scorgie C

    In Canada, copyright of image actually is owned by whomever owns the camera. For example if you borrow a friend’s camera to shoot a wedding, technically all copyright is owned by your friend, even if they did not set up the camera. So in this example the copyright would be owned by the photographer or the owner of the camera.

  • http://www.paul-d.tv Paul D
  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jim-Marsh/674033156 Jim Marsh

    The kid owns the copyright……………………but he wouldn’t own it for very bl**dy long!

  • iwnrcw

    It’s a shit photograph – who cares who owns the copyright?

  • timo musgrove

    lol he said that there were 5 shots and the photo isnt bad but we havent seen the others. regarless of the copyright you will only run into the issue if the kid comes up to you and tries to get the photo from you…. if he doesnt try to get the rights then chalk it up to curiouslty and be prepared that that child might remember and try to get it from you :P

  • Ranger 9

    In the US, copyright belongs to whoever caused the work to be created. A common example is when employees make photographs in the course of their employment, following detailed directions from the employer on what to photograph and how; the employer is the copyright holder because s/he caused the employee to make that specific picture.

    The same would be true of your example about setting up a shot and then asking the stranger to press the shutter release — you were the one who caused the photo to happen, so it’s yours.

    In the case of the grabby kid, if it had happened in the US, I think the same principle would apply. The camera owner would have caused the photograph by making his camera available (even if unintentionally); the kid certainly wouldn’t have been able to make a photograph if the camera owner hadn’t happened along.

  • Anonymous

    Maybe you wish you bought the wireless shutter release to avoid worrying about stuff like that.  But I doubt some random person from a market in India is going to be able to sue you outside of India.

  • Anonymous

    Maybe you wish you bought the wireless shutter release to avoid worrying about stuff like that.  But I doubt some random person from a market in India is going to be able to sue you outside of India.

  • Anonymous

    I like the writing structure of your blog and it does a pretty decent job of presenting the material.   

  • Mr.New

    Mirjam Letsch owns the rights to the photos. Period. Pressing the shutter (with or without consent) doesn’t give someone the rights to the photos. For e.g., you go to a photo studio in the mall and have your pictures taken by an employee who works there—the picture will belong to the store/the owner of the store and not the employee who press the shutter. 

  • Phil

    So what is required to own the rights to a photo?

  • fd

    pressing the shutter isn’t really something to give you copyrights. Making all the decision behind does. So if you put a camera on a tripod, compose the image, set up all the setting, set the lights and all factors that affect the final image the copyright is yours. For getting the copyright you have to fulfill a few parameters.
    from Slovenian law:
    Avtorska dela so individualne intelektualne stvaritve s področja književnosti, znanosti in umetnosti, ki so na kakršenkoli način izražene…

    translated to. Copyright is given to a work that an intellectual creation that fits to literature, science and art, that is any way expressed.

    Our copyright law is based on the Bern convention and we have a continental law system as a diference from the Anglo-Saxon system in England and US (and some other countries).

    Well as far as we discussed this in class I agree that pressing the button of the camera doesn’t give you necessarily the copyright. I believe that has to be more to make a photograph. 

  • http://www.bobcooleyphoto.com bob cooley

    That’s a slightly different scenario, and not really covered here.  That employee is working under the “work for hire” provision of the copyright law.

    I’m not saying that the kid owns the copyright; he doesn’t for a number of reasons, but the reason you state is not why (because the kid has not contractual obligation as an employee of the photographer).

  • http://www.eriklaurikulo.se Erik Lauri Kulo

    You almost got it. In this case, the kid is the owner of the photograph, he took the photo. Period, there’s no dancing around it. It doesn’t matter who owns the camera or anything. Since India is following the same copyright law that United Kingdom does; which states that the owner of the copyright is the person who created the work, therefor the kid is the owner.

    I can’t understand how some of you argue that the person who owns the camera should own the copyright. Or that the copyright is more than just taking the picture, it isn’t. That’s why professional photographers still owns the photograph even though his or her assistant prepared everything.

    You can however copyright an idea of a photograph if is considered original.

  • http://www.bobcooleyphoto.com bob cooley

    In some cases they do.  If an independent film-maker has hired a crew, he will either have to have the crew sign a work-for-hire contract before shooting, or have the footage signed off to them after the shooting is done.  In the case of large productions, the camera operator, DP and anyone related to the footage is already under a work-for-hire (it will be in their contract).

  • http://www.eriklaurikulo.se Erik Lauri Kulo

    Your example is moot at best. In that case the employee has signed an agreement/contract that says that the copyright is handed over to the owner of the studio. In this case, no such agreement has been made available thus the kid owns the copyright – because pressing the shutter is exactly what gives you the rights, because that’s the moment you’re creating image.

  • http://www.eriklaurikulo.se Erik Lauri Kulo

    “He doesn’t for a number of reasons.”

    State one.

  • http://www.eriklaurikulo.se Erik Lauri Kulo

    India’s copyright law is basically the same as in the United Kingdom. In short: the kid owns the photograph because he pressed the shutter.

  • http://www.bobcooleyphoto.com bob cooley

    The first part of your argument is somewhat true.  But for example, an Ad agency (who caused a shot to occur, even to the extent that they create storyboards) do NOT own the rights to the photography until the photographer who created the shot assigns those rights to the agency (unless there is a pre-existing work-for-hire contract). 

    The photographer who executes the shot (sets up the physical shot, lights, composes it, etc.) will own the rights until he re-assigns them. Even if an assistant fires the shutter (because presumably that photographer is bright enough to make sure his assistants are under a work-for-hire regarding anything shot while on the photographers assignment.

    If it happened in the US, it would be an even stickier issue; because minors CAN claim copyright (however they cannot register it with the USPTO, so litigation would be a hassle).  And just owning the equipment does not automatically bestow copyright in the US.

  • http://www.bobcooleyphoto.com bob cooley

    Children in India have no legal standing in the US (while the Berne Convention gives some latitude in compatibility of copyright laws, it gets a lot trickier when it comes to minors, both for reasons of international law, and because the laws regarding minors and contracts are even muddy from state to state in the US – and in the US state laws often trump federal laws).

    I’m not saying there is an easy answer here – in fact it would be a very interesting bit of case-law.

     

  • http://www.bobcooleyphoto.com bob cooley

    “I can’t understand how some of you argue that the person who owns the
    camera should own the copyright. Or that the copyright is more than just
    taking the picture, it isn’t. That’s why professional photographers
    still owns the photograph even though his or her assistant prepared
    everything.” 

    I’m in complete agreement with you on this – this is in fact the law; it just gets muddier because of 2 factors:

    1) The Berne Convention is vague and inconclusive (in many ways) when it comes to the rights of minors.

    2) The issue of whether this would be a matter under India or US copyright law. 

  • http://www.bobcooleyphoto.com bob cooley

    I think the Thesis question here is the easiest of them all:

    “This might seem like a pretty farfetched example, but what about a case
    where you carefully set up and compose a fine art photograph, then for
    some reason ask a stranger to press the shutter for you?”

    An analogous example here would be for an illustration or painting.

    If a graphic artist set the stage, the subject, the light, etc.  paints of draws 99% of the work, then someone else added the final brushstroke, it would not make them the copyright holder.

    If that were the case, I could walk up to the Mona Lisa, apply a color to it and Voila, I’d be the copyright holder (I know, its a dodgy argument, but you get the idea).

    But, conversely, just because its your equipment, you aren’t automatically the copyright holder.

    If someone picked up your camera at a party and took photos with it, you wouldn’t be the copyright holder, they would.

  • Anonymous

    Hi all!

    Great article and discussion.

    I’ve hade similar experiences and thoughts on this matter. One example is from my service in Afghanistan when I during an operation I arrived to an accident-site and decided I need some photographs, mainly for documentary reasons. I was however still inside the vehicle thus my field of vision was limited and therefor I asked one of my soldiers to take some photos for me (he was standing in the turret and hade a better vantage-point and unobstructed view of the site), and so I gave the camera to him, after I made all the settings etc, and explained what direction he should photograph. After he took the shots I immediately checked them to make sure they were as I wanted them.
    Now, in my opinion I should own the copyright those photos, since it was my camera, my settings and my orders to take the picture being very specific of what to photograph. Also it was my own decision to even take the photos.

    But now…reading people’s thoughts and discussions about this kid and the earlier monkey I’m starting to wonder if I’m right.

  • Mr.New

    Technically, a legal document. In the US, one must register the photo(s) via, http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl107.html, and pay fees to have the photos legally copyrighted.

  • Mike

    This is a really interesting point, In NZ law the is:
    It is not usually necessary for a photograph to possess artistic quality or have
    aesthetic value to be protected as an artistic work. To attract copyright protection, a
    work must be ‘original’ in the sense that it originates from the author (creator) and is
    not copied. It must be a product of the author exercising independent skill and
    labour.

    So it really comes down to the term “author” of the original work. In this case I’m not sure who owns the copyright, is it the photographer, because they took the equipment to the location and created the situation where the kid could take the photo (skill and labour), or is it the Kid for creating the situation where he could press the button and take photos of himself (skill and labour)???

  • Mr.New

    We have 38+ comments here for a reason—there’s no one answer. Also, there’s no clear answer as to saying the owner of the camera owns the rights to the photos. Many photographers rent equipment—not just camera bodies, but lenses, and memory cards. 

    In an unlikely event that the boy files a suit agains the camera owner for publishing the photos, the case will likely favor the owner—it is likely that the judge will award the camera owner “the rights” to distribute the images even though the images are not his “intellectual property.”

    In another case where the camera was stolen and was used to take illegal/illicit (e.g. of children) images that were published, now, the camera owner must prove to the court that in fact, the camera was stolen, and was reported stolen, and the images, in fact, do NOT belong to him.

    Now for the fun of it—to whom does the photo belong to—A) person who presses the shutter, B) camera owner, C) lens owner, D) memory card owner, E) editor (who is usually the owner). Since all these elements are required to produce a photo, the answer to whom the photo actually belongs to is not that clear, after all.

  • http://www.eriklaurikulo.se Erik Lauri Kulo

    Your fine art example makes no sense at all in comparison to this event. If you paint a picture, it’s not about preparing it, the minute you started painting the copyright belongs to you – given it has achieved the terms for originality (which is very easy). However, what’s interesting here is that there are people who photograph posters, paintings etc. which have been damaged or altered and in that case the person who took the photograph does not break any copyright violation because the photo is considered original.

  • http://www.eriklaurikulo.se Erik Lauri Kulo

    Your case is an interesting one considering you basically had a mutual agreement that he would take the photos for you. And depending on what your country’s laws are, a verbal agreement might be enough for you to own the rights. Meanwhile, if the case went to court, in his defense he might not have been aware of the terms and therefor could argue that the copyright belongs to him.

  • http://www.eriklaurikulo.se Erik Lauri Kulo

    I’m sorry if this seems harsh, but this is ridiculous. The consensus that there is no clear answer to this question because a discussion has escalated on the subject is not really valid. Copyright laws are quite clear, though they differ from country to country – but only slightly. When it comes to who owns the rights of a photograph, it’s crystal clear in most countries: the person who took the photo owns the photograph unless an agreement has been signed, e.g. work for hire-agreement.

    The only reason there’s a discussion about this is because people are spreading myths and lack the knowledge about copyright. There’s no such thing as preparing a shot, although there are possibilities of protecting an idea through registration.

  • Dslyx

    The copyright law stipulates “The Creator of the Work” the boy did not create the WORK (Did not adjust any setting on camera/was not even in possession of the camera/did not process the picture etc..).

    So even though he contributed to the shot he did not entirely create it.

    In Anycase…. even though its slighly interesting shot, its out of focus :) ..

  • Subbiah Ramalingam

    Some questions and answers
    1. Did u give persmission for the kid to shoot – No.
    2. Did the kid ask for permission – No
    3. Did the kids legal gaurdians raise copy right issues. – No

    So its yours.

    worst case you would have to share the rights.

  • Dannynoonan82

    SNORE… That picture sucks anyway.

  • Anonymous

    There are some situations where it helps to just shut up and move on with life, I’m sure this kid has more to worry about than “damn, I hope that guy with the camera doesn’t make a fortune off those pictures I took!”

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  • Anonymous

    As a friend of mine who is a lawyer once told me whenever someone asks him for a clear cut answer to what seems to be a simple legal question, his answer almost always starts off with “It depends…”  Therefore, it depends on what the contract agreed upon, regardless of whether it was written, verbal or implied. 
     
    In this case, the contract was nonexistent so the camera owner can not claim credit for taking the photo.  Yet, the photos were made at the camera owners’ expense, albeit small, so the camera owner should retain copyright as compensation.  The child/parents had essentially no expense, especially compared to the camera owner, and are therefore not entitled to compensation.
     
    This is not to say it can not get ugly if the parents get demanding especially if it becomes a widely published photo with plenty of royalties.