Photographer or model: who owns the rights to a photograph?

On Behalf of | Nov 15, 2021 | Copyright Law |

Photography, like any other form of art, is subject to intellectual property and copyright law. Photography can involve more than one party when the subject of the art is a person; a model.

While the photographer is considered the creator or “author” under copyright law, a model photographed also has a say and, in some cases, legal rights to the photograph. Let’s review what rights the photographer and model have a claim to and in what instance. 

What rights does the photographer have?

The instant a photographer presses the shutter button, they own the copyright to that image. This includes the right to reproduce, sell, distribute, and create derivative works based on the image. 

What rights does the model have?

A model, on the other hand, owns the right of publicity, i.e., the right to use any image of the model for commercial purposes.  Typically a photographer, wishing to make commercial use of a photograph taken of a model, will obtain a written release or consent that spells out the limited or unlimited use the photographer may make of the model’s image.  The model may negotiate revenue sharing with the photographer as well. It’s also possible that the subject of any photograph can hire the photographer, agree in advance that the copyright is or will be assigned to the subject, and all use or income earned from the photograph will be controlled by the subject.