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Copyright & Photographs

jeremy | Friday November 05, 2010

Categories: Key Concepts, Institutions, Copyright

People are often concerned about using photographs in publications, videos or websites that they have not taken themselves. This article should help with the complex copyright issues.

The basic rule for anyone taking photographs now is that the photographer owns the copyright of the photograph.

Photographic images are a valuable resource for TV programme makers, and website designers. The legitimate use of photographs can be fraught with difficulties trying to discover the copyright owners.

Permission to reproduce and/or publish, which only the copyright owner can give, is often complicated by the absence of clear documentation identifying the true copyright owner - old photographs can be particularly troublesome.

The Copyright Designs and Patents Act of 1988 made the legal position in relation to photographs quite clear.

Copyright in photographs taken on or after August 1, 1989 is owned by the photographer unless…

  • made during the course of employment in which case the employer is the copyright owner
  • or under a contractual commission specifying that the commissioner will own the copyright in which case the commissioner owns the copyright
  • photographic commissions for private or domestic purposes, the commissioner is the copyright owner, unless there is an explicit contractual term that the photographer will own the equivalent of copyright (known as the ‘privacy right’), in which case the photographer will own copyright.
  • Copyright in all photographs made after August 1,1989 lasts until 70 years after death.
  • There is no copyright in photographs made before 31 December 1945.
  • Copyright in photographs made on or after January 1, 1946 lasts for 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which they were taken.
  • Ownership of copyright in photographs taken between January 1, 1946 and July 31, 1989 depends on whether they were commissioned. If they were commissioned, the copyright owner would normally be the commissioner, unless the...

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