Who owns the rights to a photo – the photographer who took it or the person who had the photographer take it?

UPDATED: Feb 20, 2012

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Who owns the rights to a photo – the photographer who took it or the person who had the photographer take it?

I’m working on a portfolio piece. I had a friend take the photos but now the friend is telling me that I can’t use the photos. I had organized and directed the shoot and all of the model release forms were in my name. Is it true that my photographer can decide that I can’t use any of these photos?

Asked on February 20, 2012 under Business Law, Arizona


MD, Member, California Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

Your general question generally has to do with copyright law. If you had the arrangement as a work for hire wherein you hired this person to take photos, then they are your photos and if you specifically indicated this is your work and your friend does not own the copyright, then they are your photos. However, if you did not have this arrangement, you will probably need to go to court to force the photographer to release said photos to you. Further, depending on the type of arrangement, your signature on a model release form is not indicative that you own the copyright unless all parties signed on to this.

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