Who exactly owns the rights to Ellen’s record-breaking Oscar selfie?


posted Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 2:59 PM EDT


Ellen's selfie tweet from the Oscars was probably one of the most memorable moments of the most recent Academy Awards—with some of the most famed stars of the screen all squeezing into one shot (helpfully sponsored by Samsung). The image rapidly reached its goal of being the most retweeted image of all time, now sitting at about 3.2 million retweets. But The Wire asks a very interesting question—who exactly owns the rights to the photo?

It seems Ellen Degeneres gave the AP the rights to send the image down the wire—but were they even hers to give? Because it turns out, copyright in this situation is actually extremely confusing. Generally speaking, the copyright for an image belongs to whoever pushes the shutter button—it doesn't matter whose camera it is. So, in this case, seeing as it was Bradley Cooper who held the phone and hit the button, the copyright might belong to him.

Alternatively, Samsung might claim that it owns the rights to the image, since the use of the device was part and parcel of Samsung's advertising campaign for the awards, and they probably had a deal with Ellen for them to get the rights for the image—but would that same agreement bind Cooper?

Another option they put forward is that the rights are Ellen's, since she instigated the photograph, and Bradley Cooper become part of an impromptu shooting crew.

Of course, this is all said in jest, and it's doubtful that anyone will contest the photo in the slightest—but it does show off just how complicated the nature of photography copyrights can be when you deal with multiple people involved in the act of taking a  photo!