Who owns a photograph?

It makes little difference what the person behind a camera is doing and, for the most part, it doesn’t matter.

A man whose camera phone has just died is entitled to the photos taken by the one on which he was shooting. But even then, in most states, he can’t claim title or ownership of them, as long as the other is not working. So you may be shocked to hear that in some states, if you don’t own a photo, you should be able to sell it to a third-party.

It used to be that when someone died or was removed from the scene of an explosion, they were generally able to sell these images to people in need of images.

But now, this no-obligation, no-quibble legal system has been dismantled as a matter of public policy at the behest of law enforcement agencies in several states. The U.S. Congress has responded by passing laws that make it illegal to sell photos that show, or appear to show, police brutality and in some cases death.

Some states have been more liberal with their laws than others. In California, police are not allowed to use any of the photographs taken without permission of the photographer. In Illinois, police have the discretion to choose which photographs to use, but they may not sell to anyone else. In Florida, police can use only photographs with the photographer’s permission.

The rules vary from place to place, but the general rule of thumb is to not sell photos or video without the permission of the photographer. And the law has been changed quite a bit in recent years. A 2011 Justice Department study indicated that in 2011, 30 states had laws that allowed for some type of compensation to be made out of the images in cases of police misconduct. One state, Idaho, was so bad there that it had been added to “The State of Shame.”

Another state, Oregon, passed an image-based compensation law in 1999 that allows people who claim a photograph they took showed that someone had been intentionally injured or killed, the state insurance commissioner may be paid for the expenses that went into recovering such injuries.

Even though it may not be illegal to sell images of police brutality, the rules are on both sides of the divide, and, as the ACLU has pointed out, those rules are being changed.

The New York Times covered this on June 18, 2011, and noted that even though many laws, including the New Jersey and Illinois rules, were passed in response

Who owns a photograph?
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