If A Kid Grabs Your Camera In The Street And Snaps Some Photos, Who Owns The Copyright

from the well,-at-least-they're-not-monkeys dept

You may recall, from a few months back, the copyright debate we had going back and forth over the question of whether or not monekys could hold the copyright on some photographs they took. The general conclusion was that they could not, and the photos taken were almost certainly in the public domain, contrary to the claim of the guy who owned the camera, and the news agency he tried to "license" the photos to. That said, what if you have a similar situation involving a human? Photographer Mirjam Letsch has an interesting blog post on her site, in which she notes that while walking through an Indian bazaar with her camera dangling on her shoulder, a kid grabbed the camera and took five quick photos, some of which are pretty nice. Here's just one, but click through to Letsch's site to see the rest:
As she admits in her post:
I really liked the creative result when I later saw these images! Donít know who owns the copyright though!
While it may depend on the specifics of Indian law, in the US and many other parts of the world, it's likely that the kid almost certainly holds the copyright, technically, though the likelihood of him ever enforcing those copyrights is minimal at best. Similarly, it's unlikely that Letsch holds the copyrights on the images, but thankfully, this doesn't seem like a case where anyone wants to fight over the copyrights, but rather is an opportunity to just see some cool photos taken in under unusual circumstances.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 9th, 2011 @ 5:48pm

    Link to the site

    Here's a link to the site in question:

    http://mirjamletsch.com/?p=3344

     

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  2.  
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    colony, Sep 9th, 2011 @ 5:59pm

    awww

    children + voltage = superb

     

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  3.  
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    Spaceboy (profile), Sep 9th, 2011 @ 6:06pm

    What if you printed a license agreement on your camera, or attached it somehow, that said something to the effect of "Anyone that takes a picture with this camera hereby grants the copyright on any pictures taken to the camera owner."

     

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  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 9th, 2011 @ 6:18pm

    Re:

    That probably would work unless the person taking and using the camera reads and fully understands the contract.

     

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  5.  
    identicon
    oneblankspace, Sep 9th, 2011 @ 6:27pm

    Ill-got(ten) gains

    Random minor passerby may own the copyright to the photo, but if the person is recognizable, who owns the rights to the image? There was no model release signed.

    In another light, if minor passerby did not have permission to take the camera, he could be in the act of theft. Most jurisdictions in the English tradition do not allow criminals to profit from their crimes (once caught).

     

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  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 9th, 2011 @ 6:30pm

    You need to get out of the house more.

     

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  7.  
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    Pixelation, Sep 9th, 2011 @ 6:31pm

    Tourists

    This makes me wonder who owns the copyright when someone hands you their camera and asks you to take their picture.

     

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  8.  
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    cynicalbrodie, Sep 9th, 2011 @ 6:41pm

    racist?

    i'm offended for the indian kid being compared to a monkey, i know in context it's relevant, or am i being racist because he's indian and because i made that connection? or is it that i've heard other ppl be racist in the context of 'brown' people that if monkey is brought up in a discussion in relation to a 'non-white' person, automaticaly racism ensues, though this has NOTHING to do with this article....

     

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  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 9th, 2011 @ 6:44pm

    Re: Tourists

    IANAL, but my guess would be that it would be considered "work for hire" if the person was explicitly asked to take the picture, even if there was no payment involved.

     

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  10.  
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    cc (profile), Sep 9th, 2011 @ 6:53pm

    I'm not even sure the kid put enough creative input in these pictures to deserve a copyright at all.

     

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  11.  
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    Jeffrey Nonken (profile), Sep 9th, 2011 @ 7:18pm

    Re: racist?

    OK, I can't figure out if this is trolling, deadpan, or clueless.

    Due to the phrasing and content I'm favoring "sincere but clueless" but I'm willing to be convinced otherwise.

     

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  12.  
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    Any Mouse (profile), Sep 9th, 2011 @ 7:23pm

    Re: Link to the site

    Yes. He linked to it in the article. Thanks, though.

     

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  13.  
    identicon
    HC, Sep 9th, 2011 @ 7:56pm

    Does the kid or the camera owner own the copyright?

    Logical answer: photographs are image records of external conditions, ergo they are NOT a creation of the photographer, therefore the entire concept of a copyright on an un-manipulated image is demonstrably idiotic. A photograph is no more worthy of copyright than a list of yearly average temperatures in Las Vegas.

     

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  14.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 9th, 2011 @ 7:58pm

    Re: Re: Link to the site

    Not at first... but I bet that's hard to tell 2 hours later.

     

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  15.  
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    Aaron deOliveira, Sep 9th, 2011 @ 8:14pm

    Transformative Use

    So what would happen if someone takes the image and does something transformative like the infamous Obama photo?

     

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  16.  
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    kyle clements (profile), Sep 9th, 2011 @ 8:19pm

    Re:

    "...photographs are image records of external conditions, ergo they are NOT a creation of the photographer"

    As a photographer, and more importantly, as a fan of photography, I can say that this claim is dead-wrong.

    Spend 10 minutes looking through some random facebook photo albums, then look through a great photographer's portfolio and tell me there's no difference.

    Composition, exposure, aperture, lens selection, colour balance, lighting, posing, etc. all have a significant effect on the final image. Each of these factors involves a creative decision that alters the scene in some way to create the photograph.

    Saying a photograph is undeserving of protection is like saying a realistic painting is undeserving of protection, because like a photograph, realism also just an un-manipulated image.

     

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  17.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 9th, 2011 @ 8:35pm

    All that these blurry snapshots prove to me is that there is at least one group of monkeys who can take much better photos.

     

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  18.  
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    BeeAitch (profile), Sep 9th, 2011 @ 8:46pm

    Re: racist?

    yes

     

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  19.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 9th, 2011 @ 8:53pm

    Re:

    The camera itself owns the copyright!

     

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  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 9th, 2011 @ 9:11pm

    All of this is for nothing, because Techdirt has already taught us today that photographers aren't really artists, and that their work is on par with someone operating a photocopy machine.

    http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20110902/03151515777/photographs-are-mechanical-represe ntations-facts-thus-should-have-only-thin-copyright-protection.shtml

    Therefore, the *THIN* copyright on these images isn't worth fighting over.

     

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  21.  
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    G Thompson (profile), Sep 9th, 2011 @ 10:24pm

    Re:

    Contract law does not work like that. There is no consideration in that contractual statement (ie: What's in it for the kid in this instance) and most likely there is no implied acceptance of the contract, especially if he has no ability to read the writing, nor understand it. Also the child is a minor and unless the contract is for necessities is likely unenforceable because their is no capacity to enter into a contract.

    The kid under the Berne Convention controls the copyright but as Mike states it is highly unlikely that he would ever enforce those rights. It's still necessary to attribute the work to the child (John Doe) though.

     

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  22.  
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    G Thompson (profile), Sep 9th, 2011 @ 10:30pm

    Re: Ill-got(ten) gains

    It's not theft if the photographer saw the camera taken and allowed the child to take a few shots.

    As for model releases unless the photograph is going to be used for commercial purposes, and commercial purposes for photographs do not mean if the photo is sold for profit, as a lot of people think if sold. Commercial purposes for photos means for advertising and promotoin only.

    If I take a photo of someone and then sell that photo to a photo collector, magazine, photo gallery, whatever and the photo is not being used to promote anything it is NOT for commercial gain and therefore a model release is NOT required.

     

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  23.  
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    btr1701 (profile), Sep 9th, 2011 @ 10:32pm

    Re: Re: Tourists

    > my guess would be that it would be considered "work for
    > hire" if the person was explicitly asked to take the picture,
    > even if there was no payment involved.

    Payment (or other consideration) is pretty much necessary for the 'hire' part of 'work for hire' to be met.

     

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  24.  
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    G Thompson (profile), Sep 9th, 2011 @ 10:33pm

    Re: Re: Tourists

    Nope they control the copyright in the the photograph since there was no consideration given (ie: no quid pro quo) in them taking the photo.

    Now if you handed the person some currency that is then entirely different.

     

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  25.  
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    G Thompson (profile), Sep 9th, 2011 @ 10:35pm

    Re: Re: Re: Tourists

    Looking at the time stamp on both our posts.. Great minds do indeed think alike ;)

     

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  26.  
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    G Thompson (profile), Sep 9th, 2011 @ 10:38pm

    Re:

    Your logic systems have failed, please reboot your brain with nearest heavy object.

     

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  27.  
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    G Thompson (profile), Sep 9th, 2011 @ 10:40pm

    Re: Transformative Use

    Based on numerous court cases recently the answer seems to be dependant on what the judge feels like when waking up the morning of your copyright case.

     

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  28.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 9th, 2011 @ 11:27pm

    Ironic that that photographer poses the question of who owns the copyright, yet adds the photos to her blog, all the while having a copyright notice at the bottom of her site....and seems to have numerous posts relating to copyright and how people steal her copyrighted images.

    So kid committed a crime by "stealing" photographer's film to make copyrighted images. Then photographer steals the copyrighted images for use on her website, is she committing a crime? I see she sells prints, it'd be super ironic if she started selling prints of those photos.

     

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  29.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 10th, 2011 @ 2:47am

    Mike!
    Your using copyrighted material without getting permission and paying for a license!
    I'm going to track down that kid and get him to:
    i) Send you a DMCA notice
    ii) Sue you for willful copyright infringement (Statutory damages baby!)

    I'll settle for a few grand though :)

     

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  30.  
    identicon
    Rainbird, Sep 10th, 2011 @ 4:48am

    Obvious?

    Surely the kid owns the copyright regardless of who owned the camera, they were his creations even if they were, by most standards, pretty poor photos.
    BUT
    Without the input from the camera owner they wouldn't exist at all so the owner of the equipment would have a claim for a percentage of any royalties earned (possibly up to 100%).
    Or am I being too reasonable?

     

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  31.  
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    Bergman (profile), Sep 10th, 2011 @ 6:51am

    Re:

    It would depend on whether they read it (or knew how to read) before using the camera. If they can't read (a monkey, for example), or can read but can't read the language it's written in (likely that kid), or simply didn't see the text before hitting the shutter button, then they never agreed to the contract terms due to the fact they were not aware of them.

     

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  32.  
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    Bergman (profile), Sep 10th, 2011 @ 6:59am

    Re:

    Unlikely. Use of a photograph for purposes of journalism is covered by Fair Use.

    On the other hand, a false DMCA notice is perjury, which will result in prison time on conviction.

    Then there's the fact that demanding "a few grand" under threat is coercion/extortion. That's a felony right there, hope you like prison.

    If you have no ownership rights to the content in question, then you lack standing to file a DMCA claim. Any DMCA claim filed under those circumstances is a false one. Have fun in prison.

     

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  33.  
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    Bergman (profile), Sep 10th, 2011 @ 7:02am

    Re: Obvious?

    Most likely that's how it would work, except the kid stole the camera to do it, using consumable resources in the process. A few pixels on a memory card isn't a lot of resources, but if the camera was a film camera, then the kid used up something finite. There's also battery charge.

    Granted, it's a VERY petty theft, but it is still a theft. Many countries have laws that prevent a thief from profiting, even indirectly, from his crime. Theft does not confer ownership, so it's entirely possible that the kid doesn't own a thing, since the copyrights arose from an act of theft.

     

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  34.  
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    The Devil's Coachman (profile), Sep 10th, 2011 @ 7:16am

    How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

    That about describes the value of debating stupid shit like this. WTF? Is this really even worthy of reporting, never mind discussing?

     

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  35.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 10th, 2011 @ 7:34am

    Re: Re:

    Sounds like you and G Thompson are describing the average video game EULA situation.

     

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  36.  
    identicon
    NullOp, Sep 10th, 2011 @ 7:38am

    Ownership

    They have copyright laws in India? Who knew...

     

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  37.  
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    Beta (profile), Sep 10th, 2011 @ 9:29am

    it was only a matter of time

    Although this photo is clearly inferior to the monkey self-portrait, it is thematically similar.

    We have recently seen lawsuits for copyright infringement over less similarity than this.

    I think we can all see where this is headed.

     

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  38.  
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    Jay (profile), Sep 10th, 2011 @ 1:01pm

    Re: Ownership

     

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  39.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 10th, 2011 @ 1:28pm

    Re: Re:

    And the number of people in prison for bogus DMCA claims is how many?

    And how many lawyers are in prison for their part in copyright suit settlement schemes?

    If they aren't both big fat zeroes I'd love to know.

    (I agree that there should be some btw. The initial post was irony, I forgot you have to make that patently clear on US forums.)

     

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  40.  
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    timmaguire42 (profile), Sep 10th, 2011 @ 5:02pm

    Copyright? No, the proper term is "evidence."

     

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  41.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 10th, 2011 @ 5:49pm

    "If A Kid Grabs Your Camera In The Street And Snaps Some Photos, Who Owns The Copyright"

    Since the kid stole the camera, I would expect that you beat him bloody and then dragged his ass to the cops. If the parents want to get involved, no problem... beat them bloody too for allowing their child to be a punk. It can be an educational experience for the entire family.

    So no copyright for the kid. If it were me, I would just delete the pics and move on. What is the point of baiting a lawsuit. I have better things to worry about.

     

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  42.  
    identicon
    anon, Sep 10th, 2011 @ 11:02pm

    Re: Re: Tourists

    In the States, a work isn't "for hire" unless it says so in writing.

     

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  43.  
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    The Devil's Coachman (profile), Sep 11th, 2011 @ 6:12am

    Re:

    Well, if you do bait a lawsuit, and catch a lawyer, you're then entitled to gut, fillet, pan-fry, and eat them. There's an upside to everything. Always look on the bright side of life.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  44.  
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    Butcherer79 (profile), Sep 12th, 2011 @ 2:33am

    Profit from crime?

    The child might own the copyright but cannot make any money from it as it was 'obtained' in the act of a crime - namely stealing the camera. Any profits made as a result of this crime have to be passed on or compensated to the victim of said crime. So it doesn't really matter who owns the copyright as only the camera owner can profit from them.
    Or at least that's how it works in the UK.

     

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  45.  
    identicon
    Tech84, Sep 12th, 2011 @ 6:22am

    crime

    I don't think so, since the camera was obtained illegally if you take the legal route most probably the rights will be either transferred to you or used as evidence.

     

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  46.  
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    Stephan Kinsella (profile), Sep 12th, 2011 @ 8:42am

    The kids parents

    Minors can't own property, right? So wouldn't the kid's parents own it?

    I've also wondered in the past about the situation where you are on vacation and ask some passerby to take a picture of you and your buddies/family--the stranger owns the copyright, though presumably the camera owner has an implied license granted by the stranger...
    Such a mess.

     

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  47.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 12th, 2011 @ 6:09pm

    If the kid who took the camera (seemingly without permission) ever DID sue, and did so in the US, it seems a good argument would be that the kid no longer has any rights to the photos because they are the fruits of an illegal act (the temporary theft of the camera).

     

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  48.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 13th, 2011 @ 2:03am

    Re: Ill-got(ten) gains

    My thoughts as well. If Picasso breaks into my house and paints something on the living room wall, would he be able to claim ownership and charge me for the trouble? No. Whatever he painted would be mine to do with as I wish because it was imposed on my property without permission and in the commission an illegal act.

    I could sue him for damages as well as remove and sell the wall as an original Picasso.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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