Photo by Mariah Krafft on Unsplash

Photographers will soon be granted “default copyright ownership” to the photos that they are commissioned to take, after amendments to the Copyright Act were passed in Parliament on Monday (13 Sep).

It was said that the change is expected to kick in around November, which will allow creators of certain works – including commissioned photographs, portraits, and engravings – to be the default first owners of the copyright.

However, some Members of Parliament (MPs) raised concerns about the switch in rights ownership for wedding photos and videos, and other images that photographers were hired to shoot – such as birthday celebrations.

MP for Mountbatten SMC Lim Biow Chuan noted that the photographer may be able to retain the consumer’s personal photos, if there is no written agreement for a consumer to retain the copyright ownership of the photos taken by the photographer.

As such, Mr Lim asked whether oral agreements can be allowed so that the consumer does not accidentally lose the rights to “his personal photos or video recording just because he forgot to sign a written contract”.

“I believe many individuals may not be comfortable that the photographer… is entitled to keep these photos in his portfolio,” he said.

Mr Lim also suggested having a template agreement that people can use to negotiate and retain rights to their photos or videos.

In response to Mr Lim’s questions, Second Minister for Law Edwin Tong, who is also Minister for Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY), asserted that oral agreements would be difficult to be presented as evidence when there is a dispute.

“If oral agreements are allowed, it’s often going to be one man’s word against the other,” said Mr Tong, adding that the Government will consider Mr Lim’s suggestion to have a template for written agreements of copyright ownership.

Meanwhile, Nominated MP Raj Joshua Thomas proposed providing more public education on the change of rights issue as he noted that consumers may be shocked knowing that they may need to pay extra to have the photo rights transferred to them.

Mr Tong replied saying that the Government would look into public education efforts so that various stakeholders, including the public, understand the new rights.

Several other MPs also pointed out that creators still lack bargaining power during negotiations with buyers of services, even though they have default ownership to the rights of their works.

To this, Mr Tong said that legislating negotiating power would not be possible, given that the changes to the law would not be able to take into account “the relative considerations in every commercial negotiation”.

Nonetheless, he suggested creators – who could be freelancers and small business owners – to come together and form industry associations to build industry best practices to represent them instead.

Netizens argue that copyright ownership belongs to “whoever pays and commissions the work”

A look through the comments section of The Straits Times’ Facebook post on the matter reveals that many netizens disagreed with the switch in copyright ownership, given that photographers are being paid to shoot the photos.

One netizen, who proclaimed to be in the creative industry, commented saying that the change to the Act is “stupid to begin with” and that they “do not support this act at all”.

“When a client you for a job, no matter design or Photography, the rights belongs to the client. [You are] paid to do the job. Why should the rights even belong to the designer/photographer when it is a paid job? In fact, if the designer/ photographer wants to use the works to promote himself, he/she should seek the owner’s permission to do so,” said the netizen.

Several others argued that it is the consumers who should be the default owner to the copyright of their personal photos because they paid for the photography service.

One netizen wrote: “The couple paid for the service, they ought to be given the copyright as well. The judgement is unfair.”

“I do not agree with this. The rights belongs to whoever who pays and commissions the work. I urge all consumers not to engage any of such professionals who don’t give up their copyrights under the new legislation,” said another netizen.

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