World Press Photo
June 2005 | Edition One     

Maja Janevska from Macedonia says she is totally confused with the law in her own country on copyright and poses this question to Shahidul Alam, the world-renowned photographer who is based in Dhaka, Bangladesh:

A photographer is employed on contract by a daily newspaper, receiving a fixed, monthly salary.

However, the contract makes no specific mention about copyright. Then, the contract comes to an end, finished by one of the two parties.

Who holds the copyright of photographs taken during this staff period and is it defined by time terms? Is copyright different when photographs are taken digitally to when they are on traditional film and what are the consequences of breaking copyright?

Shahidul Alam says:

The situation in Macedonia might be similar to the situation in Bangladesh.

We have had no major changes to the copyright law since the British established it in 1911. However, there has been a small change that gives minor protection to artists and recognizes photographers, which wasn't the case in 1911.

I will therefore offer you the relevant section from UK law which I obtained from the top British copyright lawyer, Rupert Grey.

"I have no idea what the position is under the law of Macedonia, but in the UK the copyright in photographs taken by an employee of a newspaper automatically belongs to the employer, under the Copyright Act. This can be varied by agreement but if a contract makes no specific mention of copyright, the copyright will remain with the employer.

The position with a freelance photographer is different: the copyright will belong to the photographer unless, once again, it is varied by agreement with the Commissioner.

The position is no different when the photographs are taken digitally.

The consequences of infringing copyright are the same as usual: the infringer is liable to damages and these are usually measured by reference to the fee which the copyright owner would have charged had he been asked for permission prior to use.

I hope this helps, although I recognize it will not be much good so far as the law of Macedonia is concerned."

However, when you shoot digitally, you do not have 'the original negative' so ownership issues are different. Many photographers who shoot digitally shoot raw not only because it will give them better quality, but also because it can serve the purpose of being an original. No one else can replicate your raw file, so unless you give it away, you can prove the picture was taken by you.

In my experience, it is often possible to have contracts amended to suit your needs, particularly if you know the law better than the client!

Copyright 2005, all rights reserved by the photographers