Who owns the copyright of a photo once It has been edited?

Who owns the copyright of a photo once It has been edited?

Earlier this week I saw a question on a photography forum inquiring whether the person who edits a photo owns the copyright of that image. The short answer to this question is no, so, Who owns the copyright of a photo once It has been edited? The copyright of an image remains with the original photographer regardless of the number of edits or the person doing them. According to United States Copyright Law (from Copyright.gov):

The photographer who pushed the button owns the copyright. A photographer will own that copyright throughout their life and 25 years afterwards.

Whether it’s photography on your hard drive, online portfolio, or a post on your Instagram feed, with this ownership, you have exclusive rights to your image according to the Copyright Law of the United States of America. This includes:

Reproducing your photography

Preparing derivative works based on your photography

Distributing copies of your photography to the public (by sale, rental, lease, or lending)

Publicly displaying your photography


There are exceptions to the law, these are in the case of work-for-hire. If the photographer is an employee of a company producing photographic services, the photographer does not own the copyright, rather the company they work for does. The other exception to this is when the photographer agrees to do work-for-hire for a client and signs a contract stating the work will be on a work-for-hire basis. As an example, a photographer hied to cover an event such as a wedding is not considered work-for-hire unless the signed contract between the two parties states this (and we are all using contracts, aren’t we?). Therefore, a photographer taking images of a wedding does own the copyright to those images.  

Proving ownership

In the event that one of your images was used without permission, the responsibility to prove ownership of the image is on the photographer. Having the RAW file, or the EXIF data isn’t enough to prove ownership. This is why it is important to copyright your images before posting them online. Recent changes to the copyright process at copyright.gov have made the act of copyrighting your images a bit more troublesome than it was in previous years, but it is still worth the time and expense given the likelihood of not being reimbursed for usage unless you have all your copyright ducks in a row.


If I go out and find an image from a famous photographer, (say Ansel Adams) and change his image from black and white to color, the fact that I have made a derivative work form the original image doesn’t mean I own the right to sell that image and claim the copyright. Copyright law is based on common sense, if you have works that you don’t want others to use without permission, copyright them.

Hey! I love to hear from my readers! Feel free to contact me via my social media sites I would love to hear your thoughts on this or any of my other articles! Until then, get out and get shooting! 

My Photography site: http://www.tahquechi.com/

My Bodyscapes project: http://www.bodyscapes.photography/

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