Who gets copyright in other countries, photographer or client? (Update)

30 years ago UK photographers were at a disadvantage compared to other creative suppliers such as illustrators or composers. Copyright in a photographer’s work automatically belonged to the client unless otherwise agreed. Thanks to lobbying by the Association of Photographers and others this was reversed in 1988. Since then, copyright in commissioned photographs has belonged to the photographer, unless otherwise agreed.

The economic significance of this for commercial photographers cannot be overestimated.

But what about the rest of the world? Are the IP rights UK photographers won a generation ago enjoyed everywhere, or are UK photographers now better off than photographers in other countries?

It turns out we are now in step with almost everywhere else. I checked the copyright laws of 27 countries. I could only find the following countries which still give copyright to the client unless otherwise agreed:

  1. India
  2. South Africa
  3. Portugal
  4. Namibia
  5. New Zealand

The full list of the countries I checked is: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Italy, Japan, Namibia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, USA.

These countries account for 75% of global GDP and include all the top 10 countries. It is safe to assume that copyright laws which by default deprive commissioned photographers of copyright still apply in only a handful of countries representing a tiny proportion of global economic activity.

Most of the world’s creative economy functions perfectly well with photographers retaining copyright in their work: perhaps it is time for India, South Africa, Portugal, Namibia and New Zealand to rethink.

Note: I am grateful to Aaron K of the Advertising & Illustrative Photographers Association who wrote to me with details of the New Zealand Copyright Act which Aaron describes as arguably the worst in the world. Section 21(3) deprives not only commissioned photographers of copyright, but also the makers of commissioned computer programs, paintings, drawings, diagrams, maps, charts, plans, engravings, models, sculptures, films and sound recordings.

Bulletins are for general guidance only. Legal advice should be sought before taking action in relation to specific matters. Where reference is made to Court decisions facts referred to are those reported as found by the Court. Please note that past bulletins included in the Archive have not been updated by any subsequent changes in statute or case law.