Government Photographer: Photo Ownership?


TPF Noob!
Dec 20, 2007
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Hey Y'all,

First time poster here. Had a question for those of you in the know. There is a friend of a friend who is the photographer for the governor of a state in the West. My friend says he is receiving a paycheck from this state and it's his full-time job. He claims he can do as he pleases with any of the photos he takes (sell to stock agencies, publish at his will, etc.) and the State (or Governor) has no control over this.

Needless to say, we got in a heated debate (first revolving around my comments that I wouldn't want to be the personal photographer for a politician who I politically disagreed with, I call it slutting for your career) about it and I called B.S. I highly doubt an employee of the State can do as he wants with what is essentially state property. I even doubted that after a ten year grace period that would be possible.

Anyhoo, can someone shed some light on this and help solve this dispute? I'm awfully curious..
I'd suspect a lot of what he can/cannot do with them has to do with the terms of his employment.

If it isn't specified in a contract somewhere, ownership will usually fall under the employer who the individual is working for at the time.
I wonder what the Governor or State would say if he took a picture of someone in power in a less-than-flattering way and then tried to explain to them that he could do whatever he wants with the images.

I know when I worked a huge software company, anything you wrote, programming or not, was automatically copyrighted by the company, since you did it with their equipment and on their timeclock. I would think the same would apply here.
Normally when someone gets 'hired' for a photo assignment, all the photos taken remain property of the the people providing the assignment.
The photographer is normally not allowed to do anything with those photos unless stated otherwise in a contract.
Keep in mind that the photographer will be a copyright owner, as well as the people providing the assignment.
If the photographer wishes to sell those photos he would need a model release of the governor. In this case since it's a man that might have a lot to loose I would advise your friend to be very careful on how he will use those photos privately, because
if a lawsuit will be pursued for whatever reason it will be a hard one to defend against.
IANAL, but I believe that the government cannot actually hold copyrights. This may only apply to the federal government, but that my help to complicate things.
I am a Federal employee, which is different from a state employee, but I think the rules here would be the same. If he is taking a picture in the scope of his job, the state owns the rights to that picture. His compensation is his paycheck only. My guess is that he could be in seriously hot water if he was caught making personal profit from photos taken on government time. It is considered a breach of the public trust. Not very ethical either, in my opinion.
Well if he is a civilain contracted photographer for the government it will specify if the photographer will retain the rights or not but regardless its the governor photos since he is paying him to take the photos. In my career field all photos I take is government property and then will become public domain once released. So other media agency can pick up the photos. I am able you display it in a portfolio but I can not make a profit off of them however I can buy the rights of a photo for a small fee if I choose too. But ya if he is a civilain it all depends on his contract.
That's pretty much what I was thinking. Thanks for the responses!

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