Who gets copyright in other countries, photographer or client?

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 underestimated.

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 26 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

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, 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 and Namibia to rethink.

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.