Last week a lot celebrities who own an Apple iPhone were the victim of being hacked. Some very famous women found their pictures scattered across the internet, most notably, on porn sites.

Jennifer Lawrence (I would)

One such celebrity was Jennifer Lawrence, star of the X-Men films. She was not too happy (and having seen the pictures I can understand why) and instructed her attorney to send a letter to one of the porn websites demanding the owner take down the offending photos of her. Their reasoning was that the pictures were private and as they are of her she owns the copyright. However, the website didn’t buy that argument because they knew the law and knew the lawyers were trying bluff them.

The porn website’s stance is that as some of the pictures are NOT selfies the person who actually took those photos would most likely hold the copyright. In its response to Lawrence’s attorney the site is demanding proof of Miss Lawrence’s copyright or the name of the person who took the pictures.

It’s the same with Ellen DeGeneres’s Oscar selfie, which became the most re-tweeted photo ever when Ellen posted it on Twitter. At the time the Associated Press asked Ellen DeGeneres for permission to share the picture with subscribers to their photo service. But does Ellen have the right to give it away? Who really owns that picture?

Oscars selfie
(Yes that’s Jennifer Lawrence there too)

In case you’re emerging from a coma long enough to have missed the story but short enough to be aware of the word “selfie” here’s what happened.

While hosting the Oscars, DeGeneres went into the audience to take a photo with a cluster of Hollywood bigwigs. Her (successful) goal was to beat the all-time record for re-tweets, which at the time of writing, she’s done three times over.

According to Paul Colford of the Associated Press, the AP simply asked DeGeneres for permission to use the photo and it was granted. “We reached out to her staff and asked for permission to use her photo” Colford said, adding that they “were allowed to use it for editorial purposes.” The agency wrote a quick blog post about it saying exactly that: “Oscar host Ellen DeGeneres granted The Associated Press the rights for the editorial use…”

‘Behind the scenes’ of the selfie

The problem, according to Los Angeles-area entertainment lawyer Ethan Kirschner is that DeGeneres might not own the copyright on the photo. “Historically” Kirschner said, “it’s always been the person who pressed the shutter who’s technically the person that owns copyright.” In part, that’s a function of the age of the art of photography; the idea that everyone has their own camera in their pocket is a fairly new one. When the courts were trying to figure out who gets copyright they “had to assign copyright to someone; they gave it to the person that literally pressed the button.”

In the case of the Oscar selfie that person wasn’t DeGeneres. It was actor Bradley Cooper. In her tweet, DeGeneres acknowledges that fact (in case the many television cameras capturing the scene hadn’t made it obvious): “If only Bradley’s arm was longer” she wrote, joking that more celebs could have been included in the picture. “In this case, if you go by the technical law, Cooper would own the copyright,” Kirschner said.

So, is this a victory for Photographers? People make the mistake that they own their image when in fact they do not. If I am at a famous landmark and someone asks me to take their picture on their camera then legally that image belongs to me.

Exactly the same is true of wedding photographers, they own the wedding pictures of the happy couple. Not the happy couple themselves. The happy couple are only paying for the photographer to take pictures and provide prints, they do NOT own the copyright and there have been cases where a photographer has sued a couple for publishing their wedding pictures without permission.

Another case happened recently to highlight who owns the copyright of a picture. Recently a picture went ‘viral’ of a ‘selfie’ that a monkey took at a zoo. The story goes that a visitor to the zoo put his camera down for a moment and a monkey came along, took the camera and inadvertently pressed the shutter button while looking down the lens.

The owner of the camera posted it online, it went viral and began to be displayed, broadcast and published all over the world. Seening the opportunity to make some money the camera owner asked various people for royalties and when they refused took them to court.

At the end of the trial the judge gave his verdict that as the monkey pressed the shutter the monkey owned the copyright and as an animal can’t legally own possessions, the picture is public domain.

The photographer was gutted, and had an expensive lawyer bill to pay.

So, beware next time you let your partner take a picture of you in your underwear or whatever because you have no rights to the picture whatsoever!

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