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Unless a contract has been signed stating otherwise, the federal Copyright Act states that the photographer owns the copyrights in the photographs and thus controls how they may be used.


Copyright law is slanted in favor of the creator.

The copyrights of photos are given to the photographer, not the model. The exception is if the model (or client) pays the photographer for his services, and prior to shooting gets a contract signed by the photographer stating that the work will be a “work for hire”.

However, this prior designation of an independent contractor’s work as a “work for hire” can only be done when the work falls into one of the following nine categories: (1) contributions to a collective work; (2) parts of a motion picture or other audio visual work; (3) translations; (4) supplementary works; (5) compilations; (6) instructional texts; (7) tests; (8) answer material for a test; or (9) atlases. If you are paying a photographer for his services and wish to receive the copyright of the photos taken, be sure to get them to sign a copyright transfer release (your responsibility).

The ownership between the photographer and a client should be clearly stated and agreed upon in writing by both parties as the first item in the contract. It may be difficult to find photographers who will do this without significant compensation.

With that said, even when a photographer owns the copyright of a photo, they cannot publish or sell a model’s photo without a signed model release. Nor can a model publish photographs without a signed publication release from the photographer (even if the model paid for the images).
Photographs taken at public events are considered newsworthy, and in most instances do not require a release.
Photos taken of public people such as the President or a celebrity do not require a signed model release because they are considered “public people”.