Say, someone snaps a picture of me. Do I own the rights to it? Or is it the photographer?

My intent is to find out for U.S. but a plethora of in-depth answers is very helpful!

  • \$\begingroup\$ This is generally locale dependent - where are you? \$\endgroup\$
    – rfusca
    Commented Jul 22, 2012 at 18:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ United States____ \$\endgroup\$
    – dcc
    Commented Jul 22, 2012 at 22:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ Need to know what state you're in as well. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 22, 2012 at 23:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ Wow, it's complicated. I'm in WA. \$\endgroup\$
    – dcc
    Commented Jul 23, 2012 at 22:39

2 Answers 2


This varies widely based on jurisdiction, and there are widespread misconceptions about it. The photographer is normally the sole owner of the copyright in the photograph. However, local personality rights (aka right of publicity) may limit the use of an image without permission of the subject. Personality rights vary from nation to nation and even within a nation; sometimes all publication is limited, sometimes all commercial use is limited, sometimes any marketing or promotional use, sometimes only the false implication of an endorsement is limited (as in Canada or Australia), and some places recognize no such right at all (e.g. all US states not listed in the Wikipedia article, such as Oregon). Whether the picture was taken in a place with a reasonable expectation of privacy also may or may not figure into local law.

Country specific consent requirements on Wikimedia Commons summarizes consent requirements for public photos in a limited set of nations. Here's a rough summary of that page:

  • Some countries where it is illegal to publish (even just on your Facebook page) a picture of a person taken in a public place without permission: Brazil, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Spain, Switzerland

  • Some countries where noncommercial publication without permission is permitted: Austria, China, India, Netherlands, United States

  • Some jurisdictions where commercial use without permission is permitted: Netherlands, most US states

In short, as a photographer, you either need to be thorough about acquiring permission, be very careful to research applicable law in your jurisdiction and not exceed the permitted uses, or just take a chance that the person will not have the means and interest to sue you.

One exception: if the photographer is working under a contract that explicitly transfers copyright to the subject, or is being paid by the subject and the work qualifies as a "work for hire," then that party assumes copyright and has full control over its use, and the photographer must license it from them even to use it in their portfolio. (Note that not all work done for money qualifies as work for hire.) If you are a subject hiring someone to photograph you and concerned about misuse, you should consider an explicit contractual clause that limits use without your permission.

Edit now that the OP has added their jurisdiction: personality rights in Washington state, USA are governed by WA ST 63.60.040. If the person's likeness is used without permission to imply an endorsement of a good or service, whether or not for profit, it may be an infringement. There are fair use exceptions. Personality rights are licensable and transferable, and persist even after death for a period of 10 or 75 years, depending on whether the person is an "individual" or a "personality." See the statute for more.

  • \$\begingroup\$ With regard to the last paragraph: in some jurisdictions (notably Canada), copyright belongs to the commissioner of a photographic work in the absence of contractual provisions to the contrary. Portraitists, wedding photographers, and so on need to be aware of this and make sure that the contract allows them to retain copyright in their own work. \$\endgroup\$
    – user2719
    Commented Jul 22, 2012 at 22:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ @StanRogers That's correct (see capic.org/…). Essentially the class of work-for-hire works is larger in Canada than in the US. There is a summary of international work-for-hire laws in other nations at sutherland.com/files/Publication/… ("Analysis of International Work-for-Hire Laws"). \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 22, 2012 at 23:57
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ It isn't work-for-hire (that requires an employer/employee relationship), it's the result of photography being classified as a graphic art (in the original sense) by default in the copyright statute—the work product is considered a reproduction unless is it specifically declared to be creative. (R.S.C., 1985, c. C-42, 13(1)) \$\endgroup\$
    – user2719
    Commented Jul 23, 2012 at 0:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ I suppose this gets eve more complicated if you took pictures in one country with the intent of publishing it in another. Then which jurisdiction's law should apply? The locale where the image was taken or where it is intended to be used? I can't imagine the laws being too effective/enforceable in either case. Fascinating and crazy at the same time! \$\endgroup\$
    – poweratom
    Commented Jul 27, 2012 at 19:31
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ It is not illegal in Germany as per the first list item. It is illegal to publish (commercial/noncommercial doesn't matter at all) a photo where a recognizable person is the main subject; when the person is part of a large group (e.g. demonstration) or not recognizable this is not forbidden (exceptions like implication of endorsement apply). It is not at all forbidden to take the photo. It is highly dubious to take such photos as you can't do anything with them except store them; but it is not forbidden. \$\endgroup\$
    – his
    Commented Feb 13, 2014 at 22:38

Under Canadian Law, not sure about other jurisdictions, a photo can be published as long as; 1) consent is given or 2) it was taken in a public place or a place with no expectation of privacy. For example... at the beach no problem to take it and publish it, (no expectation of privacy). Through a privacy fence in another persons back yard... not allowed, (an expectation of privacy exists).

  • \$\begingroup\$ The same is true in the United States. \$\endgroup\$
    – Blrfl
    Commented Jul 22, 2012 at 1:57
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ This is incorrect except in Quebec. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personality_rights#Canada. Canada common law only limits misuse of an image implying an endorsement. @Blrfl: There is also no right to privacy in the United States, but there are personality rights that limit some types of commercial use in some states. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 22, 2012 at 7:09

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