Who owns copyright in digital images?

An American computer technician, Patrick Sagouspe, is suing equine photographer Robert Vavra for copyright infringement over a composite image the two of them worked on together.

Sagouspe helped Vavra to combine three of Vavra’s horse images from Vavra’s book “Equus: The Creation of a Horse” to create a fourth image entitled “The Whisperer’s Horse” (which can be viewed by going to www.robertvavra.com).  Sagouspe claims that he contributed sufficient originality to the combined image to qualify for copyright protection and even filed a copyright registration.  He is suing Vavra for 50% of his sales of prints of the image as co-owner of copyright.

Vavra says Sagouspe was just a technician putting Vavra’s vision into effect.  He claims Sagouspe provided no artistic input at all.

What happens in the USA ends up happening here before long. Digital manipulators don’t normally claim ownership of their work in the UK, but there is often no reason why they shouldn’t. The Sagouspe case may spark off similar claims over here.  Photographers should carefully check the terms under which they commission digital work: these should include a clear statement that all copyright in the work will belong to the client photographer.

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.