Tag Archives: control of image

owning photographs

In the fourth & final entry in Salon.com’s series on ‘ex-gay’ therapy ministries [‘True confessions‘], the writer describes how one ex-ex-gay’s attempt to control photographs of him is thwarted by copyright:

On the front page of the Exodus International Web site is a photograph of several dozen men and women. The allegedly changed homosexuals, or newly minted ex-gays, are beaming at the camera, apparently celebrating their newfound freedom from homosexuality. Standing in the center of the photograph is 29-year-old Shawn O’Donnell, who was enrolled in Exodus programs on and off for 10 years.

Exodus is the umbrella organization, information clearinghouse and referral service for “ex-gay ministries.”

The only problem with the Exodus photo is that O’Donnell is still gay.

Recently, O’Donnell asked Exodus president Alan Chambers to take his photo off the Exodus Web site. But Chambers, O’Donnell says, told him that Exodus owns the picture and it still signifies that people can change. “I said, ‘How can you say that is true when I know there are at least three people in that picture who have not changed?'” Exodus did not return my calls seeking comment about the photo.

This is a common misconception: people think they ‘own’ the photographs taken of them. In fact, no, they may own the prints of the photographs. But the photographer holds (‘owns’) the copyright, as the ‘author’ of the work. This FAQ written for photographers gives an idea of how photographers interpret copyright:

Even if one were to purchase an original portrait that was specially commissioned, the purchaser would only be able to frame and display the work. Unless the parties otherwise agree, the artist owns the copyright and the work cannot be copied or reproduced. Thus, without permission, the subject of the portrait cannot even make a holiday card from the painting.

Thus, some photofinishing labs (like Wal-Mart) have taken to refusing to duplicate photos that look ‘professional’ unless the holder has permission from the photographer. [See 5/30 story in sandiego.com; related commentary & links Ex Cathedra 6/8; Derivative Work 6/17]