PHOTOGRAPHY : Who owns copyright

Who owns copyright?

For photographs, unless there is an agreement to the contrary, the general rule is that the photographer is the first owner of copyright.
There are, however, a number of exceptions to this general rule.

Photographs taken in the course of employment
If an employee takes a photograph as part of his or her job, the first owner of copyright will be the employer, unless they have made an agreement to the contrary.

Photographs taken for the government
Unless there is an agreement to the contrary, a Commonwealth, State or Territory government is the first owner of copyright in material created, or first published, under its direction or control. Note that these provisions do not apply to local governments.

Commissioned photographs
Specific provisions set out the general rules on ownership of copyright where a person who is not the photographer’s employer (a client) pays a photographer to take a photograph. For information about ownership rights prior to 1998 refer to the Australian Copyright Council factsheet Photographers and copyright.

For photographs taken on or after 30 July 1998, the general rule on ownership depends on the purpose for which the photographs were taken:

  • if the photographs were taken for “private or domestic purposes” (such as family portraits, or wedding photographs), the first owner of copyright in them is the client, unless the photographer and client agree otherwise; however
  • if they were taken for any other purpose (e.g. commercial shots), the photographer will be the first owner of copyright, unless the photographer and client agree otherwise.

Rights of copyright owners
Owners of copyright in photographs have the exclusive right to:

  • reproduce the photographs—for example, by making prints, photocopying, and digitising;
  • publish the photograph (make copies of the photographs available to the public for the first time); and
  • communicate the photograph to the public—for example, by putting the photographs onto a website, broadcasting or faxing them or emailing digital files of them.

Photographing board members

Board members are often short of time. They know they have to be photographed but would rather get it over and done with. It's important that the photographer can capture the character of the board member, put them at ease and maintain that essential level of gravitas.


Professor Glyn Davis,
Vice-Chancellor The University of Melbourne

Briefing a photographer

Prepare a brief for a the photographer as part of the initial design brief.
It should cover a range of areas specific to the shoot such as location issues, number of shots, type of shots etc.
Download a guide for briefing a photographer.