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If I hand my camera to a stranger with the request to take a photo of me (such as tourists often do with a landmark in the background), who owns the copyright?

There is a mention in this answer that if you hand your camera over to a stranger to take a picture of you in front of a landmark, then technically, the stranger owns the copyright, but this is disputed by a comment. On this question on quora, there are answers claiming either way, but the quality of the answers does not appear very good.

Usually those photos are rather simple where they do little more than I would with a tripod and timer/remote shutter, but sometimes the person has some photographic skill and considers composition, light, and camera settings, which makes me wonder what I can do with it.

I don't sell photos commercially, but should I worry uploading such photos on the internet?

I am interested in answers for anywhere in the world.

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The Wikimedia Foundation's legal team once analyzed this under US law. You can read their analysis here: Authorship and Copyright Ownership. The summary is that it depends on who had how much creative control over the end result.

In practice, it will almost never be a problem. The stranger is not going to remember that exact photo and is not going to sue anybody. The Wikimedia Foundation analyzed this most likely because Wikimedia projects pay attention to copyright even when the copyright holder probably will not care.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Interesting read. Maybe we're both co-authors if the stranger takes a photo of me at my request :) (I agree that nobody will care in practice.) \$\endgroup\$
    – gerrit
    Commented Oct 11, 2022 at 11:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @gerrit, you say that "the situation" happened to you 3 times this year. What situation? Someone taking your photo at your request? Or someone challenging your use of that photo on copyright grounds?? \$\endgroup\$
    – osullic
    Commented Oct 11, 2022 at 15:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @osullic Someone taking my photo at my request. Nobody has ever challenged my use of that photo. \$\endgroup\$
    – gerrit
    Commented Oct 11, 2022 at 16:00
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Really, non-problem.

  1. The chances that the "camera handlers" find your the picture and recognize the picture they took is abysmally small
  2. They would have a very hard time proving they were the ones handling the camera

Assuming you are terribly unlucky with the above, you get a take down notice, but they can't do anything commercially with the picture since that would require a model release from you.

The only case I can think of were this would be a problem is that something happens behind your back (plane crash, meteorite impact...) that makes the background of the picture more important than you. But then, unless they try on the spot to keep the picture, see #2.

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In most cases the person taking the photograph will own the copyrights. The argument for joint authorship is valid assuming the person taking the picture (and the settings/etc) was almost entirely under your direction. And there are many reasons why this is very unlikely to come up as an issue in the first place (most know little/nothing about copyrights). But there is another legal consideration which I think is probably most valid/relevant... the **implied/verbal contract between you and the person who took the picture for you.

The picture was taken at your request, and handed back to you with no comment/limitations made. There are only two plausible reasons for this interaction.

  1. they know that you cannot do anything with the image, so they took it because it didn't matter... it's as good as if they did not take the picture at all. Or,
  2. they don't care about the copyright, at least in terms of your use of the image. It is understood that the purpose is as a keepsake of the moment and that you would most likely reproduce it (copy), show it to others (make public), and quite possibly edit it extensively (derivative work/copy)... that's three out of four.

Which seems more plausible? Which is a judge more likely to lean towards? If the person taking the image knows about copyright, and required no contract/limitations, that almost necessitates an implied contract for your use. And even if they did not know about copyright, the lack of concern/limits expressed also implies an understood agreement/implied contract.

The only right I think could still potentially be problematic is publication (sale/profit)... it is not illogical to assume a tourist asking for a keepsake image isn't likely to sell/use that image for profit. And even then there would be a lot of factors at play; how much (financial) harm/gain is involved, who is more culpable (should know the laws/unfair contract), etc.

And you probably don't want to claim authorship of such images. Just from a moral standpoint if nothing else (since you are aware of copyrights/moral rights).


**technically, because you did not exchange something of value it would not be a legal contract; it would be a gift.

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