Sharing Quality Images for Critical Writing and Discussion
Who Owns the Photographic Image? Comments and opinions with no clear answer.

Who Owns the Photographic Image?

The most recent posts have discussed some really serious issues surrounding the use of photographic images. The answers are not easily found.

To foster greater understanding, the theme of the upcoming Professional Development Seminar will be, Photography in Flux: Technical Issues, Media and Style.  Organized by Andy Cooperman, Brigitte Martin and myself,  We have spent hours discussing a range of current issues surrounding photographic images.

Here is another one of the serious questions we've been discussing:

ChocolateQuestion200 Who Owns the Photographic Image?

Let's assume that the artist made the artwork and owns the copyright to the artwork. Then a photographer is hired by the artist to photograph the artwork.

Who owns the copyright to the photographic images?

The answer isn't as simple as it first appears.  Is it the artist who hired the photographer?  Or is it always the photographer?

When an image is to be printed in a book, whose permission is required? The artist, the photographer, or both? Can a permanent agreement between the artist and photographer allow unrestricted use by either party? What if the image is altered?

What if your artwork is photographed by a photographer hired by a museum or exhibition? Who owns the copyright to that photo then? The artist, the photographer, or the museum/exhibition sponsor?

These are just two examples. I am really confused.  I want an answer, a real answer, not just my opinion. Does anyone really know? 

Obverse Obsession © 2005
Post Consumer recycled tin cans,
aluminum, sterling silver, 10k gold
Artist: Harriete Estel Berman
Photo Credit: Philip Cohen

In the spirit of cooperation, we all benefit from the publication of images. The artist benefits by sharing their work with a larger audience. The photographer receives visibility and recognition for the quality of the photographic image (and possibly potential business photographing more work). The art/craft world benefits from the exchange of images and ideas. But who owns the photographic image?

If you have a clear answer please leave a comment.

Do you have a source for your information?

Hopefully, there are practical solutions, but what is the correct answer? We hope to have a solution at the Professional Development Seminar "Photography in Flux: Technical Issues, Media and Style" on May 28th, 2011.       


This post was updated on January 22, 2022.