Media and Communications Law

Who Owns Copyright to Falling Bear Photo? Probably the Enterprising Student Who Took It, Lawyer Says

A photo of a tranquilized bear falling loose-limbed out of a tree at the University of Colorado-Boulder went viral after it was distributed via the Associated Press.

But it now appears that the CU Independent, a student publication that provided the photos to the AP, may not have owned the copyright, the Poynter Institute reports.

Instead, student Andy Duann, who grabbed his camera and rushed to the scene after hearing about a bear in a tree, probably is the legal owner of the photo, since he apparently was not an employee of the paper and did not have a written work-for-hire contract with the Independent, let alone one broad enough to cover an unassigned freelance shot, said attorney Adam Goldstein of the Student Press Law Center.

“I’d sort of analogize it to you wake up, and there’s the student newspaper adviser in the backyard selling off pieces of your backyard. Yeah, it’s interesting that he didn’t know that he didn’t have ownership of that,” Goldstein told the Poynter Institute in an email. “But I don’t think that means I’m not entitled to get my stuff back.”

Recognizing the dispute about ownership of rights to the photo, the AP has advised members not to use it. Meanwhile, Duann reportedly is discussing with CU officials how to resolve the situation.

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