Author’s rights denied for a studio-employed photographer

Author’s rights denied for a studio-employed photographer


A photographer employed by a photography studio may not claim author’s rights for photographs he took while so employed.

The French Court of Appeals of Paris held, on January 15th, 2014, that the photographs taken by said photographer pursuant to the instructions of his employer, and in collaboration with his colleagues, must be treated as collective works i.e. that such photographs were created and completed by various individuals pursuant to the specific instructions of the Studio and thus the Studio Harcourt was the exclusive owner of such photographs, including all author’s rights therein.

This decision is rather surprising given that the photographer had previously entered into an agreement with the Studio Harcourt pursuant to which he transferred his authors’ rights. The parties’ determination to enter into such an agreement could be considered as a mutual acknowledgement by the parties’ that such photographs were indeed not collective works.

Given that the Court determined that the photographs were collective works, the photographer had no legal right to any contingent compensation from the exploitation of such photos nor was he entitled to be credited as the author thereof, unless otherwise agreed to by the parties.

In its decision, the Court noted that the photographer’s contribution blended with the contribution of the studio’s other employees, such as those in charge of lighting, makeup, and photo-retouching, who all work to convey the “Harcourt style”, “especially coded” and representative of the photographs taken and exploited by the Studio Harcourt.

This decision is in line with recent French case law, which tends to qualify as collective works those works which are created by employees within the scope of their duties and pursuant to their employer’s instructions.