Selfie copyright: lessons from a photobombing horse

Often it seems the internet was created to share images of animal antics. Sometimes the stories behind the images shed light on the copyright issues involved.


First, Ella the grinning macaque wowed the world with her selfie skills, starting a series of tussles over copyright ownership fought out before the US courts. Now, enter from stage left Betty the happy horse from North Wales.

A selfie of a father and his young son, taken from a public footpath with a beaming Betty in the background, won a £2,000 holiday in Thompson Holiday’s ‘Made Me Smile’ competition. It is reported that Betty’s disgruntled owner has demanded a share of the prize, claiming that the father should have asked for her consent to use the photograph.


So who owns the copyright in a selfie and why does it matter?

The first owner of copyright in an image is its author. The author is the person who has used their skill and labour to create the original image. Very often, particularly in the case of a quickly snapped selfie, that is the person who takes the photograph, but that is not always the case. Sometimes the creative force behind the photograph is another person (or persons) who has composed the image or selected the camera settings or lighting conditions to make it work.

Where an image is made by a person in the course of their employment, the owner is the employer, in the absence of any agreement to the contrary.

Copyright may also be transferred from the author to a new owner by agreement.

The owner of copyright in an image has the exclusive rights to reproduce it (or, in this case, to enter it into a prize winning competition) and may prevent others from doing so.

On that basis, it does not look like Betty or her owner will be joining the father and son on their prize holiday any time soon.

At the risk of flogging a dead horse, my other commentary on the subject of creatures’ capers and copyright can be found below.