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! Don?t 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.

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

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G Thompson (profile) says:

Re: 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.

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: 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.

oneblankspace says:

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).

G Thompson (profile) says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

cynicalbrodie says:


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….

HC says:

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.

kyle clements (profile) says:

Re: 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.

Anonymous Coward says:

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.


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

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: 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.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 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.)

Rainbird says:


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.
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?

Bergman (profile) says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

“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.

Butcherer79 (profile) says:

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.

Stephan Kinsella (profile) says:

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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