Who owns your image on someone else’s photos?

I have been doing some research on the Internet to see what other people have come up with. Some interesting links & insights come from:

http://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en-us&q=who+owns+your+image+in+a+photo&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8 – my original google search (keep it simple to start with!)

** The case here under discussion was an employee of a gas company who took pictures after the Oklahoma City bombing. In this case he used company equipment, on company time – so the company owned the pictures.


Hopefully no one will do something bad with the pictures of you

Hopefully no one will do something bad with the pictures of you

** Facebook actually owns your pictures? Can this be true? Are they allowed to have an agreement that goes this far… (probably yes)


** The BBC is not so nasty as Facebook: “If you submit an image, … you agree to grant us a royalty-free, non-exclusive licence to publish and otherwise use the material in any way that we want, and in any media worldwide. This may include the transmission of the material by our overseas partners; these are all reputable foreign news broadcasters who are prohibited from altering the material in any way or making it available to other UK broadcasters or to the print media…

–>It’s important to note, however, that you still own the copyright to everything you contribute to BBC News and that if your image and/or video is accepted, we will endeavour to publish your name alongside it on the BBC News website…”

** An NPR interview on “Who owns your image on the Internet” – have not listened to the show

** A pretty normal sounding situation in Canada where a professional photographer took a picture, a girl was in the frame, the picture made it into a magazine, the girl saw it and sued as she did not grant permission. After ten years it went to the high court… who awarded her $2,000 – in what sounds like a crazy, deeply dangerous precedent (in was in Canada though)

** blog posting on ‘who owns your likeness’ – it depends – from the RRD Photoblog

“The answer is simple: it depends!

Well, that is to say that while you and only you own your likeness, you’re only in total control of it when it is being used commercially. In the US, anyone can take your picture when you are in a public place and use it for non-commercial purposes – which includes editorial, reportage, and art. Of course there are exceptions to this rule, such as public places where you would have a “reasonable expectation of privacy“, such as a bathroom or fitting room, but for the most part the general rule applies.”

And some good input from the blog on the Creative Commons License, used by people like Flickr:


“Publicity rights allow individuals to control how their voice, image or likeness is used for commercial purposes in public. …This is a distinct and separate obligation from obtaining the copyright license, which only gives you a license from the author (or photographer) but not from the subjects. A Creative Commons license does not waive or otherwise affect the publicity rights of subjects.”


Some general rules seem to emerge (I am not an expert, although I have spent a bunch of money on Intellectual Property law as part of my day job at Imaginatik). Most photographs will belong to the person taking the picture, unless you are a paid photographer and you are explicitly hired under a work for hire contract (i.e. you assign ownership to the person paying you). [Note – the video selection below is supposed to be a riff off work for hire -> assassin -> ninja stickman attack – it is slightly tenuous]

Because few people are celebrities, and the law allows a wide class of usage without needing to tie it to making money, it means that your image can pretty much be used – and almost abused – by pretty much anyone at any time, as long as they are not making direct money out of it. Facebook posting pictures as part of a general content play to get advertisers to pay for eyeballs would not count as commercial use of the picture.

So, you are ‘in the clear’. You do not own ‘you’. You can probably complain about specific pictures (and hope Google has not indexed them for eternity). But you as ‘you’ have gone now. Moreover, you are not at the mercy of some local magazine publishing a picture in an edition that only a hundred people will read. You are up on the internet, for millions and billions to see, millions of robotic, automated agents to pick up on, and your mum, dad, Gran and sister too.

That being said, and referring back to my earlier post on the topic – it is an emergent phenomenon and it is going to happen anyway. And the good news – I am sure that pretty much everyone you know has done something bad or naughty and been caught on camera at some point, so it is only a matter of time before you can turn the conversation around to them. Enjoy!

One Response to “Who owns your image on someone else’s photos?”

  1. Good post ! Although I am very careful what I upload on facebook and such. You never know if the content you put up will one day bite !

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