Does my gift of photography services transfer ownership of the photographs to the client?

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Does my gift of photography services transfer ownership of the photographs to the client?

I’m a photographer and took pictures at a friend’s wedding as my gift to the couple. We are no longer friends and she is trying to say that she owns the photographs because I “gifted” them to her. My argument is that I gifted my services, but did not transfer the copyrights to her. Who owns the photos?

Asked on March 10, 2011 under Business Law, Oregon

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

While an exact answer will depend upon exactly what was said (or written) at the time of the transfer and/or leading up to the transfer of the photos (i.e. the context for the giving over the photos), the general rule is that giving someone a "thing"--whether it's the finished proofs, the negatives, the digital files, etc.--does not also conveny the copyright and other intellectual property rights. Those typically need to be conveyed by assignment--by an agreement specificallly transferring them.

If you'd been hired to take the photos, then the copyright, etc. would probably belong to the couple, since in that case, the photos would have been a work for hire. However, if you took them on your own then gave the photos as a gift, most likely copyright would remain with you.

However, as noted, the circumstances are everything. If your former friend is adamant that she owns the copyright and if there's a chance she either may litigate or may cause other trouble for you (e.g. blog negatively about you), you should ask yourself if it's worth fighting.


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