Who owns Ellen’s Oscar selfie?

The Associated Press asked Ellen DeGeneres for permission to share her now-famous Oscar selfie with subscribers to their photo service. But does Ellen have the right to give it away? Who owns that picture?

Um, well, I guess Ellen does, right? After all, she took it with her camera, right?

Not so fast, cowboy.

The problem, according to Los Angeles-area entertainment lawyer Ethan Kirschner, whom The Wire also spoke with, is that DeGeneres might not own the copyright on the photo. “Historically,” Kirschner told me, “it’s always been the person who pressed the shutter who’s technically the person that owns copyright.” In part, that’s a function of the age of the art of photography; the idea that everyone has his own camera in his pocket is a fairly new one. When the courts were trying to figure out who gets copyright, they “had to assign copyright to someone; they gave it to the person that literally pressed the button.”

In the case of the Oscare selfie, that person wasn’t DeGeneres — it was actor Bradley Cooper.

Really interesting discussion of copyright.



  • Mark Thomson

    Will Samsung lay claim, given it was on a device that was on loan? Will it be the TV network as it happened during their show coverage? Will it be the Academy as it was at their Event? Will it be Twitter as it was shared immediately with their service?

    It’s a hard one to call, that, has the potential to get messy.

    • Joseph Blake

      Ownership of the device is irrelevant. ABC’s claim simply because it was on their air is irrelevant. It happening at the Oscars is irrelevant, and the fact it was posted to Twitter is quadruple irrelevant.

      The Academy might have a claim since Ellen was working for them (but again, she technically didn’t take the picture) and ABC, Samsung, or the Academy might have a claim if they had a signed contract with Ellen (but again, she didn’t technically take the picture). Twitter would not be involved in this at all unless for some weird reason they had a contractual involvement prior to the event.

  • Brian Mauter

    So, does that mean Nat Geo photographers retain copyright on photos they shoot for the magazine?

    • gjgustav

      It depends on their contract. If they are paid to go somewhere and take pictures by Nat Geo, it belongs to Nat Geo. If they freelance and then sell to Nat Geo, the photographer retains copyright.

    • Colin Mattson

      Yep. Have since ASMP, EP, and NPPA fought for copyright. Nat Geo’s contract (like any publication’s contract) grants specific reproduction rights, but the copyright remains with the photographer. If you rip off Afghan Girl, it’s Steve McCurry coming after you, not NG. When NG has published beyond their original contracts, they’ve been sued by their contributors. Repeatedly.

      Note that this does not apply to staff photographers, but they were rare to begin with in magazines and even more rare in today’s world.

  • Joseph Blake

    I wonder if there was a contract between Ellen and Samsung/the Academy regarding just this issue and also possibly if that was why Ellen was trying so hard to keep Cooper from taking the picture

  • Raymond D

    Had Ellen taken it, it would have been a work-for-hire, so owned either by the Academy or Samsung, depending on their contract. But as soon as she handed the phone to Cooper, since he was not being paid by anyone, the copyright of any picture taken by him is his.

    • GFYantiapplezealots

      If anything Ellen and Samsung had Bradley sign over rights after the show.

  • GFYantiapplezealots

    It’s no wonder she was so insistent that she take the photo before finally giving in and letting Bradley do it so they could fit everyone in.

  • jimothyGator

    So if Ellen didn’t take it, why is it a “selfie”? Doesn’t a selfie mean that you took a picture of yourself…ie?