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There's a Small But Major Question About Ellen's Oscars Selfie


It's everywhere.

Oscar host Ellen DeGeneres broke social media records Sunday night after she cajoled a handful of A-list celebrities into posing with her for a group selfie.

She uploaded the photo, which was taken on a Samsung phone, to Twitter and it quickly became the most retweeted image in the history of the social media platform.

But here’s an interesting question: Who owns the rights to the photo?

It's not just interesting — it could potentially answer why DeGeneres seemed so hesitant to let actor Bradley Cooper take the photo for the carefully choreographed Samsung commercial.

See for yourself:

True, DeGeneres suggested that Meryl Streep take the picture (which doesn’t really make any sense considering Streep was in the back) and she eventually handed the phone to Cooper, but only after she had run out of other options.

Was it about ownership?

It appears that Cooper and DeGeneres both have a strong case for ownership, although it would seem that everything leans heavily in DeGeneres' favor.

As noted by the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, generally speaking, photographers are given ownership of photos. And considering that Cooper was the one who took the photo, one could argue that he owns it. However, DeGeneres was the one who uploaded it to Twitter.

Poynter's Ellyn Angelotti wrote that Twitter’s terms of service state that Twitter users hold the rights to content they create: “You retain your rights to any Content you submit, post or display on or through the Services.”

Further, Twitter is given permission by its users to use content created within its platform as well as content shared via its application programming interfaces.

“But what’s yours is yours – you own your Content (and your photos are part of that Content),” Twitter’s terms of service adds.

But, again, Cooper was the photographer. Does he have the right to halt anyone from reproducing or using the photo without his explicit permission or without first paying him?

Not likely, Angelotti said.

“Despite the fact that the selfie is the most retweeted image in the history of Twitter, DeGeneres, as the content creator, still likely holds the copyright to image,” Angelotti wrote. “I say likely because Cooper, as the actual photographer, could argue he is entitled to the copyright to the image since he was the original content creator.”

Now, if DeGeneres had an agreement with Samsung for exclusive rights to the photo, it’s a done deal. She owns the photo. However, she apparently uploaded the actual photo backstage with an iPhone — so any previous agreement with Samsung would now be void.

Still, regardless of which phone she used to upload the picture, it would seem that DeGeneres has the strongest case for ownership based on Twitter's terms of services.

Of course, whoever who ends up owning the photo will undoubtedly have a hard time getting the Internet to respect their claim to ownership. After all, it has been retweeted more 3,167,946 times.

Follow Becket Adams (@BecketAdams) on Twitter

Featured image via @TheEllenShow

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