Who owns the copyright in a photograph?

There has been a lot of media coverage about the most re-tweeted photograph taken at the recent Oscars ceremony. But who owns the intellectual property rights in the Oscars “selfie” of Ellen DeGeneres and assorted film stars?

If the circumstances were moved to the UK, what would be the situation under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 with regards to the ownership of the copyright in the photograph?

Is it Ellen DeGeneres, who organised everyone together for the photograph and who posted it on her Twitter account? Is it Samsung, the ceremony sponsors, who may have asked Ellen DeGeneres to stage the photograph for promotional purposes? Alternatively, was it the person who actually pressed the button: Bradley Cooper?

Copyright Owner

In the UK, the owner of the copyright in a photograph is the author: the one who makes the permanent record. Therefore, if it had been Ellen who had pressed the button, she would own the copyright.

If Ellen had been an employee of Samsung and she had taken the image during the course of her employment, the copyright would vest in her employer, Samsung.

However, in this situation it was Bradley Cooper who actually pressed the button. So he owns the copyright in the photograph. It does not matter who actually owns the camera, or in this case, phone, that the photograph was taken on.

Lesson Learned

When a third party is engaged to take photographs on your behalf, e.g. a professional photographer, the copyright remains with the photographer unless agreed otherwise. It is therefore important to get the copyright in the photographs assigned to you.

In this situation, Bradley Cooper would have to assign the copyright to Samsung in order for Samsung to exploit the photograph, with the added complication of getting permission from the assorted film stars to use the image of their faces.

And the Winner Is…

Apart from the new Twitter followers that Ellen DeGeneres has gained and the publicity that Samsung has received, Twitter is the real winner here. The licence to use content posted on Twitter means they have given themselves the right to do what they want with the photograph. In addition, the media coverage Twitter has received is phenomenal, and they did not have to pay a penny for it.

Will “Best Media Coverage” be one of the categories at the Oscars next year?

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