That Belongs to Me – More on Copyright

Track Worlds

With Accreditation to the UCI World Track Championships I could photograph everyone riding and I retained the copyright for all images.

When I was photographing some cycling events there was a rider that would say to me “you can’t take my photo, I haven’t given you permission”.  In response I would say, “I don’t need your permission”.  He thought I needed his permission because I was photographing him.  Then many riders, mainly juniors, would think they owned the images because the images had them in them.  This is a common problem and one that was brought up last week as well.  I thought today we might have a look at Copyright ownership, or who owns the copyright on the photos.

Again, most of what I am going to say will refer to is Australian Law.  While much is similar from country to country, state to state, it is something that I recommend you all find out about in your own country.

So, according to our laws, the first owner of copyright is the photographer, the person who took the image, and not necessarily the person who owns the camera.  So if you lend your camera to someone, and they take a photo, then that image will belong to them, not you.  However, for most of us here, it means if you take a photo, then the copyright belongs to you and you can do what you wish with that image.  Of course there are always going to be exceptions.

The rules are different again for photos that are commissioned for newspapers and magazines.  I am not going to go into them here, as I don’t think it is of major concern to us here, but if you are taking photos for magazines and newspapers then you should be aware of what your rights are and what you are allowed to use the photos for.

But what happens when someone commissions you or pays you to take photos?

In Australia the laws vary according to the date that they were taken.  For the purpose of this blog we will look at the law as it stands now and has done since 1998.

Briony - My ChoiceIf you are paid to take photos for private purposes, such as wedding photos, family portraits, child portraits etc, then the ownership and therefore copyright will belong to the client, or the person who has paid you to take the photos.

The image above, as most of you know, is of my daughter.  It is a portrait and would be considered an image taken for private use.  If this was not my daughter, and her family had paid me to take this image then I wouldn’t be able to put this image here without the parents permission and for my own protection I would get a model release form signed as well.

I know some photographers have it as part of the agreement or contract with clients that they can use some images for publicity.  Though, I am sure if you said you didn’t want that they would still take your photo.

If, however, you are paid to take photos for commercial purposes then the images still belong to you unless you come to an understanding with your client.

if they were taken for any other purpose (e.g. commercial shots), the photographer will be
the first owner of copyright, unless the photographer and client agree otherwise.sced20121125-0124

It is quite interesting to read.

In November, you may recall, that I went to the BMX State Championships at Knox.  I was being paid to be there and my job was to photograph the women and girls at the racing.  As the images are to be used for commercial purposes, I would suppose that the images still belong to me.  However, I would assume that they aren’t mine to sell.  The image on the right was of the men racing, I took some while waiting for the women/girls, so I am pretty sure I own the copyright on them.

Another area that can be confusing is when you are taking photos in a building that you think is public but isn’t.  Many sports stadiums are thought to be public, but they aren’t.  Usually the people who own the building, the government organisation or private owners have the say on who can take photos in their buildings.  Generally if you have the owners permission to take photos in that building then you don’t need the permission of the individuals.

At the beginning I talked about the kid who said I couldn’t photograph him.  As it was a cycling event, in a velodrome, he may have been able to make a case, but since I had the permission of Cycling Victoria to take photos for myself and them, I didn’t need the kids permission.  Of course, you have to be reasonable and if someone really doesn’t want you to use their images, then why would you?  It will be better in the long run not to use that image and use another one.

I have only ever had one person say I couldn’t photograph their child or put photos of their child up on my website, I obeyed, even though the images were taken on public roads, it was easier to exclude them and not put them up.  In the end, the parents gave their permission after it was obvious that their child was the one being blurred out of images.

Track World Cup - Hisense Arena 2012I hope this has cleared up some questions, and helps some.  I know this wasn’t asked for, but after last weeks post I felt it was warranted to do.

For links to various countries copyright organisations then please go back to last weeks post, The Public in the Copyright Issue.


  1. Thanks, Leanne, for a most informative post. Wondered about these kinds of copyright infringements, and your explanation was thorough and provides a bit of relief!

  2. Wow, thanks for the insightful information. I never thought much about this issue from a photography point of view (my copyrighted material is all abstract art).

    In a way this does bother me, this aspect that anyone can take my picture in public and do what they want with it, as owner of that picture (my image).

    I just watched a kids’ show with a young relative and show was about a teen who was putting videos of his friends on his blog and they didn’t like this. Is this the same issue?

    As for models and cyclists, if a professional model happens to be in the bike race and you take this person’s picture, do you still have copyright?

    Overall it seems like the whole issue is even more complicated for photography than it is for paintings.

    Thanks again for the post.

    • From what I understand, in the United States someone can take your photo in public and use it for editorial purposes only (i.e. magazine or newspaper). If they are using your photo for commercial purposes then that is a huge no-no. I don’t know how tabloids get away with it, and I’m unsure how it applies to personal blogs.

  3. It’s amazing how often people think the law will support their right to grab a reporter’s camera and remove the card. Ha! If they then walk off w the card, they’ve just managed to mug the reporter !

  4. A good follow-up to your previous post, with concise and informative detail. Most of what you state is either the same or very similar in the UK, as far as I am aware. It is good to see photographers being encouraged to learn the legal status of their work.

  5. The only thing I would add is that if a person is in a public place and has taken measures to have privacy you cannot take their picture. For example a person has taken the steps on a beach to go to the secluded spot away from everyone else, it can be argued that they have taken steps to have their privacy in a public place.

    In the case of the cyclist he may have been thinking about his future and controlling his public image.

    In a model release and building release i would also write into the release, that as a photographer i can use these images for my self promotion and with the possibility to be added to another work.

    • In reality Ben the kid was just being a smart arse really. He thought he was being clever and when I told him the law, he still argued,

  6. Pingback: It’s A Bird No It’s A Plane | David's Photo Blog

  7. that was very interesting, and timely for me, up to now I have only put my own photographs of my own business products, or photos from my garden or such online, but I am preparing to offer photography as a product and a service so the info is very much appreciated.
    Also my Dad was a cyclist and so I related to the examples. He loved to get his photo or name in the paper but thinks he would have known a few smart a’s who’d think they were too hot to let a girl take their pic (paraphrasing, this was way, way back, dad is 80 now)

    • Oh and PS: common decency applies on both sides. If a person objects to having their photo taken there may be valid reasons (on the run from the law, under witness protection, extreme case of self loathing). So, even though a photographer may be in the right when taking a photo, we should also be respectful of other people’s wishes.

      As benrowef64 said, if a person has taken steps to be left alone, that should be respected.

      • I have to say I agree with that as well, I hate having my photo taken and I don’t like it when I tell people not and then they do it anyway and then put horrible photos of me on facebook.

  8. Thanks, Leanne for the info. As a genealogist, copyright is pretty similar regarding genealogical data. I had an interesting situation happen to me a few months ago. I took a picture of my young niece. She had just celebrated a birthday and being the adoring aunt that I am, treated her with her latest obsession…Tinkerbell. Yes, I gave her Tinkerbell wings, slippers and tutu. She was delightful as she enjoyed them and I took some pictures of her that I thought captured her very well. I posted them on my blog (watermarked with a copyright). A friend of my sister and brother-in-law is an artist and she happened to see the pictures. She was impressed enough to take one of them and use it as a basis for a painting. I may be wrong, but I think this is a copyright violation, especially since she didn’t approach me for permission. She does sell her artwork. Sometimes enforcing the copyright is the sticky part.

    • That is a grey area, and unfortunately you may find she can as she is changing the image to a painting, so she isn’t completely copying it, or she is copying it into another medium. A friend uses photos for her work and we have struggled to find out what the law is here. I would look into it, though, especially if it bugs you. I do think she should have asked you.

    • travelrat says

      I wondered the same thing; a lady saw one of my photos in a magazine and asked if she could base a tapestry on it. I saw no reason why not; after all, she could have just gone ahead and done it, and I’d have been none the wiser.

      Also, if you visit my blog, you’ll see a number of pictures of sculptures. I did ask permission (sometimes, retrospectively!) and in each case, the sculptor has been delighted that I have publicised their work.

  9. A little of the subject but to do with permission of sorts … inside Harrods, flash facing up and bouncing down off ceiling – not direct, two employees complained bitterly to me “your flash will blind us”: they were being serious

    • If bright light from above can hurt them, what about the sun?

      Sounds like a couple of vampires there – carry a stake just in case.

  10. When taking portraits in public, don’t you need to get a model release signed? Back when I did my photojournalism course they insinuated that was the requirement. Sort of similar to what you suggest for using your portraits for publicity and asking for permission or including it in the contract.

    • It really depends on what you are using it for. Basically if people are in public they have no right to privacy, but if you are going to use it for commercial purposes, make money from it, then you should get a model release, but if you are putting photos on your blog or other places just for yourself, then no you don’t need to.

  11. Copyright is a big issue here as well. I haven’t had much problem with people and permission. My dad carried around media releases with him everywhere he went and that was 40 years ago when he was doing so much photography. I am much more casual, but I tell people I blog, and most of the time they fine with it The problem comes also when you use pictures on the web. Since my site is not for profit, and the organizations I create for are not for profit and are educational, most things are protected if they are public. I site the pictures by linking them to the original URL. I am probably not doing enough, but I don’t ignore it. :)

    • I just avoid photographing people in public, or I just ask, but I don’t like doing. I don’t feel comfortable doing it, so I concentrate on bricks and mortar, they don’t get upset about being photographed.

      • How true. I used to do that, but I wanted to get some practice taking pictures of people. One lady that said yes ended up having me take pictures of her twins for Christmas. I must have taken 50 pictures of them. So we both profited. It was fun!! :)

  12. Great article and very informative, many similarities with UK law.

    I just want to share with you an article about an experience a friend of mine had while taking photo’s of industrial units for a community blog a year ago.

    Basically he was in the street, in the UK, and two security guards came out the factory they were guarding and started trying to move him on. According to them you can’t take photographs of buildings in the UK as it’s “Against the law”.

    This of course is utter nonsense. Yes there is the point of public / private land, but in this case the photographer was standing in a public area, photographing new a sign which had been erected at a factory.

    Anyway, here’s a link to the article. Enjoy.

    • The law is very clear here, you can photograph private property as long as you are on public land, bit weird, but there you go. Thanks for the article.

  13. Copyright law protects the producer of work and the work produced. Privacy law protects the subject. I think it’s important to recognise that claims to copyright can be made only after the privacy law hurdle, if applicable, was overcome. Usually, in an organised cycling event, the terms and conditions of entry includes a provision that allows sanctioned photographers / videographers to freely take and make use of photographs of the entrants. Whether a rider has bothered to read the T&C is another matter. Similarly, as a sanctioned photographer, it is probably not a bad idea to ascertain that your rights are covered by the event’s T&C to which entrants are subject. Obvious stuff, but hey…

  14. I saw a caught out with two photos with copyright – the photographer contacted me – but because I have stated that he was the owner … on the photo – he aloud me to use them. Or he didn’t come back again, when I asked if I should removed them. Never claimed it was mine. I always save the photos first and I write the owner name on the photo as saved. Not great .. but I got away with it.

    • It is one of the things that concern me about pinterest, people take photos from there and credit pinterest, but don’t credit the owner, which probably means it is done without permission, and it is a form of stealing. I like to be asked first and it is rare I say no, but I don’t allow it on facebook.

      • I know …. if I pick from there .. I write the owners name too.
        On google, it can be a problem because there can be so many copies of the same picture – and witch is the rightful owner??? So I state the website I have taken it from.
        It’s truly a jungle out there …

  15. What great photos!!! Wish you could have been with me on the next installment that will be on my blog. There were great photographic opportunities there.

  16. I learned a lot from this! Thanks for sharing, and dropping by my blog. I hope someday I can take better pictures! Pia

  17. Sheesh, this is all very confusing to me. It’s good that I do not enjoy taking images of people. That allows me to avoid these complications all together! Nice bike image at the top of the post. As always … very informative – thanks. D

  18. Very interesting read! I come across the same problem. Have done private shoots in my less intelligent days without a deposit. Some expected to just go ahead and use images I had processed with no intention of ever actually purchasing any of them at all, but they were low resolution images.
    I finally threatened to delete the entire load of originals and they told me I could not do that because they were their images. Sadly, they are wrong. Without a contract, without a payment they are my images. I may not be able to post recognizable photos of them, but I own them and I can destroy them if i wish.
    It’s a wedding, I can’t believe how crass some people can be. After 50 hours of work between the wedding, prep, layouts and editing I receive nothing for it because they think they have done me a favour as a new photographer and expect to get them free. And it wasn’t the picture quality, they want the images. They just don’t want to pay for them!
    In Canada, the photographer owns the images, can publish ‘editorial’ photographs of anyone even if the person did not know they were part of a photograph. But if you ask them and they are aware and request that you not take photos, then you cannot publish them but you would still own the image. There are copyright laws on some buildings and places in Canada as well.
    The photographer owns all images they take (unless they make other arrangements). The person in the image may have control of publishing the image. But of course, my preference is to also receive permission prior to taking photographs and now I have also learned to use a contract for portraits.

  19. Al Kline says

    Really good post and clears up a lot. I do use photos sometimes in my poems blog entry and certainly if they are in wikepedia, they appear to be public domain. I try and always credit any photo that I have not taken to the photographer. Question is: Can you post photos in your blog without permission if you credit the photographer or even webpage that you pull tthem from?

    • Technically no, you shouldn’t do it. It is still stealing, but I would imagine that the photographers won’t mind what you are using it for, and may not mind, though if you can contact them and get permission even better. I have never denied a poet the use of my image to use with a poem, but always insist on photo credit.
      I think you have to think how you would feel if you found your work on someone’s else blog without your permission and no credit to you. It is tricky one.

  20. Thanks to you and others who have provided links for taking the time to post this information. Much of it boils down to respect for others and their property, but as we all know there’s a lack of that all around the world. It’s interesting that people who wouldn’t steal your car or your wallet think nothing of stealing your artwork.

    • I know what you mean. One of the things I hated about cycling was how they would steal the photos for facebook. I would constantly see my images with my very heavy watermark on them on facebook. They just didn’t get it was stealing, there is some attitude that everything is free on the internet. So frustrating.

  21. wow…I really like how you did the first photo…the head cyclist clear but those behind blurred…very cool! your daughter is lovely…
    thanks for the update, I find it interesting…I’ve done a bit of research and will do more as I want to take photos at my Farmers’ Market for the Market website and I’m not sure how to proceed.

    • I think if you are doing it for the market, then be obvious that you are taking photos, if people ask what they are for, then I am sure they won’t mind, and if people don’t want their photo taken they will move out of the way. I would say that legally you will have no problems. Is the land the market on public land?

      • the land is a City owned parking lot that is given to the Market to use every Saturday, May to October…there are just too many people milling around, coming & going for me to ask permission but I think you are correct…in this particular situation, if they don’t want to be photographed they will move…or if I’m questioned I’ll explain what and why…thank you for your help with this…I do appreciate it!

  22. This is very informative and useful article. Thank you for sharing this, Leanne. Really helpful. :)

  23. A very interesting article. Your point at the start of your post about national laws is key here, for those photographers who are into travel photography.

    In France and Germany, for instance, they have very strict laws against taking photographs of people in public without their prior permission. So check before you travel.

  24. Interesting topic….( written from the USA, Boston, MA) Your post bring up an interesting and very personal topic that I almost do not want to write about; security camera images. I’m not referring to a red light of a camera placed in a public place for public use. A privately owned camera that is deliberately aimed inside of a home. One that police, nor US laws will touch…..despite assurances of freedom in the Constitution of the United States, I have a better chance of owning a gun that removing this particular camera or even knowing what images other than there are images. (said stating the fact that I am very much ANTI GUN…)
    What about those images? Is a camera, especially one wireless, with a remote control, the new way around copyright laws? Love to here thoughts on this. Who owns the rights to the images? What if images are altered? How does the subject claim any rights to images I describe? For more info I’ll re-post this comment on my blog along with a picture or 2. Wait… are the pictures that I take considered an invasion of privacy? Not my privacy but the camera owner? Just visit my blog…..before i change my mind?

  25. Tricky stuff, especially if you are a photographer from another country (Australia) and taking the photos in another country (USA)–do you have to adhere to your country’s copyright laws while in the contracted country even though you are a citizen of another?

    Also, I wonder how many violations are occuring as we speak since practically everyone with a phone has camera usage and posting is just about instant.

    Thank for the stopby, excellent post.
    Happy Pages,

  26. Most interesting. It seems to be a common misconception that one needs permission from casual subjects of photographs, but it doesn’t stand up to a bit of thought. Otherwise, newspaper photographers would go mad or old long before their time, and just imagine if for one’s holiday shots one had to go to everyone on a crowded beach seeking permission? Ludicrous.

  27. My wife is a photographer and teacher of photography. We were just in a discussion the other night about copyright of images taken in public. The law (in the USA) has repeatedly upheld the idea that people in today’s world should expect to be on camera once they step outside of their home. But, that’s mostly security cameras and the like. Photos taken specifically of you seem to fall into a different and very grey area. So long as the images are kept private, there doesn’t seem to be an issue. And really, how could someone know to have an issue if you keep the images private? But posting them online is a different arena. How are you posting them? Is it to a private group? The general public? Are you making money from them – directly or indirectly – or are they impacting the reputation of the person or persons pictured? It’s not an easy area for photographers to be in. My wife plays it safe so that any image she is going to display, she gets a release from the person pictured – even if it was a candid image taken prior to the person’s knowledge of the camera. But it’s a minefield with no clear path.

    • Actually it is pretty clear, basically if you are out in a public place then you can be photographed, The photographer can put your image up on a website without your permission, however if you are going to use the image to endorse products or for commercial purposes then you will run into trouble. Not all countries are like this, but Australia is, and from what I can work out the US is very similar. Imagine what it would be like photographing things that are tourist attractions.

  28. Very informative, Leanne! You are right… America has similar laws.

    In America, your ‘expectation of privacy’ pretty much vanishes when you walk out the door of your home… a fact the paparazzi love and exploit to extremes.

    If you are in a public place, even something ‘secluded’, you cannot claim an expectation of privacy. Another person is free to photograph you and unless they use the image to cause you harm, there is not a whole lot you can do about it.

    However… you are not free to use of an image of a person to endorse or promote a product or service without their permission. Yes, you may own the image and be the copyright holder, but that fact does not allow you to ‘commercialise’ another without their consent.

    I tend, with the exception of friends, to not photograph people or include them in a photograph in a manner that I would need their permission to display (they are identifiable), and when I do, I am scrupulous about getting their ‘okay’… otherwise, I toss the image.

  29. Good article! Not sure the comment about the wedding etc is quite correct. But as I try and make a point not to shoot weddings, it doesn’t affect me.

  30. Very interesting read. And a difficult task to manouvre sometimes… Like, should you be allowed to put up a picture of a naked child because it is playing on a public beach? (Of course it’s the parents’ fault for allowing it in the first place, but still…). I often wonder if I’m crossing some invisible line when I’m taking a photo without asking. But then… I never profit from it.

    • I think in the end it has to be an ethics thing as well. You might have the law on your side, but you have to live with what you do as well. I would have say no to the naked child thing, it is one thing for a parent to do it, but I know I would never put photos like that up on my website. Even when I was photographing netball if a girls dress was up and you could see her bloomers, I was reluctant to put them up on my website. Common sense should always rule.

  31. Well written! What a controversial topic! I am not a professional photographer, but many of my photos are used on my travel blog….so lines are blurred. If the person is clearly identifiable and with a high likelyhood of being used, I usually will tell them that there is a chance they will be on the blog. I generally apply the rule of “if it were a picture of me, would I be ok with it?” I have only received one please don’t use, to which I respected.
    On the other hand, I belong to a bicycle club in Canada that runs a great youth program. A few parents requested that the club not post any photos. It could have been a sticky situation, after all, the club does provide financial benefits to these youth – most likely, the photos that would be used would be action shots from races as well as podium shots. The kids probably have their photos all over the web in FB and twitter etc….but the club is not allowed to publish any photos on what is a successful youth program. A shame really – podiums are something to be proud of. The coaching and assistance to these young racers is something I wish I had had access to when I was their age.
    Tough call when copyright and privacy collide!

    • How selfish of the parents, not to want to help the club. Most places here when you join a club you pretty sign up to allow your kids to be photographed and used for publicity. As long as the shot isn’t off in any way that may embarrass the kid. You are right, they have more information on their facebook page, they probably don’t even know who all their friends are, and that would be more dangerous than a photo of them showing them receiving a prize. I never put names with the kids on my website, so unless you know who they are, you wouldn’t be able to find out unless you go to a lot of trouble.
      I like you attitude about posting photos of people on your travel, it is a good one.

      • Thanks Leanne – my philosophy on what gets published is only fair – I would not want someone to use a terrible photo of me either!
        While I think I recognize the rider in your first photo – I recognize that kit anywhere – nice Team Canada! :)

  32. Supremely informative, Leanne! I will have to read up on the US copyright laws and also do a post regarding them. Oh…and especially FINE captures, particularly that first image–love the ‘action’ and blurring!

    • I think once you get into it it isn’t that hard to understand. It can be pretty straight forward. The laws don’t really cover the ethics of it though, I think you have to let common sense rule there. Thanks. I had forgotten all about that first one.

  33. Such a helpful article! I usually blur out the faces of people that can be seen very clearly, but not if they’re far away and could be anyone. And I always blur out the faces of kids, even my own (the youngest). Well, I’m not a professional photographer, so I guess faces don’t have to be nitid on my photos lol.

  34. Thanks for sharing that. That knowledge will come in handy for The Gentle Way ride I’m about to embark on. You also take diverse and nice photos. If you are keen, I would be more honoured if you were available to take some photos at our major fundraising event, The Ride. It starts on Monday in Adelaide, and will finish at The University of Melbourne in Werribee on the 22nd of Feb.

  35. Thanks for this. It’s always tricky, especially when you are a newcomer to all this, to know what is ok or not to use. I think I would always err on the side of caution as litigation scares me to death!!

  36. anita manuell says

    It’s a real head spinner sometimes, Leanne. Thanks for taking the time to write this.

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