A recent legal case involving a monkey and a camera reminds us of a key point of intellectual property law that is often overlooked.
When Naruto, a black macaque monkey, got hold of professional photographer David Slater’s camera and took a fantastic selfie, the question arose as to who owned the rights in the photograph.
Under copyright law the general rule is that the person who took the photograph owns the copyright in it. It is that copyright ownership that prohibits third party use of the image without the owner’s consent and enables the owner to earn royalties by licensing its use.
The outcome of the case was that David Slater rather than Naruto owns the copyright. One of the reasons for this was that although animals have rights, they are not capable of owning things.
The important point it reminds us of is that if an organisation commissions a third party (an agency, consultant, artist, photographer, author, software developer or the like) to create something for that organisation, the rights in the work will belong to the third party not the commissioning organisation. And this is the case even though that organisation has paid for the work.
Those rights can however be assigned. So when you are commissioning works in this way, make sure you have a good written contract and that it includes a full assignment to you of all relevant rights.