The question title says:
Is it legal to own a photo …
This is an unfortunate wording. Owning a photo (which presumably means owning
copyright in that photo) is different to owning a copy of that photo. It
seems like this question is about the latter.
The title later says:
… without their permission?
The question body says:
no matter how many times I ask him not to
But merely failing to give consent to something is different to specifically
asking for it to not happen.
So there are two questions here:
- Is it legal to possess (or continue to possess) a photo of another person?
- Is it legal to share that photo?
(in both cases, without the subject’s consent, or despite the subject asking
for it to not happen, or both)
Of course, these questions are highly dependent on the jurisdiction, the nature
of the photo and, for the second question, the nature of the sharing. A
non-exhaustive list of examples is given below. (“Sharing” could mean anything
from showing the photo to another person to making copies of the photo
available to the public.)
As Dale M’s answer says, there
are two aspects to these questions: copyright (which is about the rights of the photographer) and privacy (which is about the rights of the subject).
Copyright (to the extent it exists) is generally owned by the photographer, not
the subject, unless the photographer is the subject or the photo is a work
for hire. Of course, copyright ownership can be transferred.
But if none of these exceptions apply, then the subject has no rights to
prevent others from possessing or sharing the photo.
Aside from the mostly undeveloped tort of privacy breach discussed in Dale M’s
answer, there are various laws that directly address these issues.
Other answers mention various examples. Another example, from Quebec, is
Pascale Aubry, who successfully sued a magazine that published her photo
without her consent for “the invasion of her
Many jurisdictions have laws that specifically address intimate images (those
that show intimate body parts or a person engaing in an intimate activity or,
in some jurisdictions, a person who is unclothed, in all cases in circumstances
where the subject has a reasonable expectation of privacy). Intimate image laws
generally prohibit the sharing (and, in some jurisdictions, the taking) of such
images without the subject’s consent.
New Zealand’s intimate image law (Crimes Act
sections 216G–216N) and Singapore’s intimate image law (Penal Code
1871, sections 337BB–337BE, with
definitions given in section 377C) make it clear that merely showing an
intimate image to another person counts as “publishing” or “distributing” it
(respectively), which is generally prohibited. South Australia’s intimate image
(Summary Offences Act
part 5A) seems similar. But under Canada’s initimate
image law (Criminal Code, section
162.1), it is not so clear (at least on my cursory reading).
Most of these examples do not address the question of possessing the photo.
Canada and South Australia’s intimate image laws do not. But New Zealand and Singapore’s intimate
image laws do. They generally prohibit possessing an intimate image without the
Finally, it seems like Australia is an extraordinary special case: under the
Online Safety Act 2021,
when an intimate image is provided on certain electronic services, the subject (or their representative)
may object to that provision (Part 3, Division 3), and the eSafety Commissioner
may order the image’s removal (Part 6, Divison 3), even if the subject
consented to that provision. It is not clear how the eSafety Commissioner
should (or does) make such decisions.
Other special cases
Australia’s Online Safety Act 2021 contains provisions for “cyber-bullying material” (children) or “cyber-abuse material” (adults) similar to those for intimate images: where the subject (or their representative) objects, the eSafety Commissioner may order the material’s removal, even if the subject consented.
South Australia’s Summary Offences Act 1953, headed “Filming and sexting offences”, also contains provisions for “humiliating or degrading filming”, which is where the subject is being subjected to (or compelled to engage in) a humiliating or degrading act. These provisions are similar to those for intimate images, generally prohibiting the sharing (but not possession) of such images without the subject’s consent.
Child abuse material
Of course, child abuse material laws generally prohibit any dealing in child
abuse material, including possession and sharing.