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Oscar selfie tweet raises copyright questions

Ellen DeGeneres has made the photo taken at the Oscars the most retweeted image ever, but does Bradley Cooper own the copyright?

Image courtesy of the AP. Or Ellen DeGeneres. Or Bradley Cooper. Or whatever.

It’s hard to pinpoint the highlight of the 86th Annual Academy Awards telecast. It could have been the gripping 12 Years a Slave winning Best Picture. It could have been the breezy, charming acceptance speech by Best Actor winner Matthew McConaughey. It could have been the moment when host Ellen DeGeneres ordered pizza for the assembled stars to nosh on. Or, it could have been the epic selfie that included Hollywood stars such as Kevin Spacey, Brad Pitt, Jennifer Lawrence and a half dozen others.

That image has become the most retweeted post in the history of Twitter, and is emblematic of the fun, in-touch humor that the Academy is trying to promote. But, as points out, the intellectual property rights to the image in question may be a bit fuzzy. 

The Associated Press used the photo for editorial purposes after obtaining permission from DeGeneres. But not so fast. Entertainment lawyer Ethan Kirschner told The Wire that DeGeneres may not own the copyright on that photo. This is because it was former Alias star Bradley Cooper who actually took the photo. Kirschner stated that, since personal cameras became commonplace in the 20th century, the courts decided that photo copyrights should be given to the person who actually took the photo on his or her camera.

If Cooper did decide to take DeGeneres to court on this matter, as the photo could be considered a collaborative artistic effort, and many of the stars involved could conceivably stake a claim. One other entity that might have a say in this matter is Samsung, which has an advertising deal with the Academy and possibly prompted DeGeneres to use its technology to take the photo, though it is unclear if the company had an agreement in this matter. The final player in the matter is Twitter, which maintains the right to publish the copyrighted material.

The good news is, this is likely a purely academic argument, as the players involved don’t seem likely to sue each other anytime soon. Though, if they do, you can count on a host of retweeted selfies shot in a California courtroom.


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Senior Editor and Community Manager

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Rich Steeves

Richard P. Steeves is Senior Editor and Community Manager of InsideCounsel magazine, where he covers the intellectual property and compliance beats. Rich earned a B.A....

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