If I get a ticket for speeding in Germany with a photo taken by an automatic camera, is there any copyright attached to that photo, or can I use it without asking the state for permission?

  • In the US the government works for the people. It is difficult for me to imagine an entity that is subservient to the public, using a robotic device that was purchased with taxpayer funds, asserting a claim over an image that has no artistic or commercial value. But then one should never underestimate the righteous zealotry of a bureaucracy: reason.com/2019/01/02/judge-confirms-that-oregon-engineer-has Jun 3, 2023 at 18:05
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    @MichaelHall works of the US federal government are in the public domain in the US.
    – phoog
    Jun 3, 2023 at 22:33
  • @phoog, what about state, county, or municipal government works? Jun 3, 2023 at 23:24
  • @MichaelHall they are not excluded from copyright protection (so most traffic enforcement photos in the US would also enjoy copyright protection if a court found the photo to be a work of human authorship; however, the monkey selfie case suggests that courts would not make such a finding.)
    – phoog
    Jun 5, 2023 at 10:36
  • J Fabian Meier: "is there any copyright attached to that photo, or can I use it without asking the state for permission?": The two possibilities are not mutually exclusive. There are circumstances in which one can use copyright-protected material without the copyright holder's permission. Therefore, even if the state does have copyright in that photo, you may be able to use it for certain purposes without the state's permission. Since you haven't mentioned the use you have in mind, we can't address it specifically.
    – phoog
    Jun 5, 2023 at 10:49

2 Answers 2


A flash photo (Blitzfoto/Beweisfoto) is a technical aid (Technische Hilfsmittel) for the speed limit enforcement (Geschwindigkeitsüberwachung).

They are created for the sole purpose to be used as evidence for a fine notice (Bußgeldbescheid) and must originate from a responsible authority (i.e. not privat persons or companies) that is determined by state laws.

It is an integral portion of the file (Akte) of the notice. The file belongs to the responsible authority (generally called Bußgeldstelle).

Since it is a combination of technical data togeather with a photo, the copyright rules for a photo should not be assumed.

  • flash photo of a culprit flying 15 km/h over the 30 km/h speed limit

The responsible authority will not have any copyright, due to §5 UrhG, but it still belongs to them.


  • I hope the culprit in your picture also gets fined for the missing lights and not using a seat belt.
    – quarague
    Jun 5, 2023 at 8:21
  • @quarague Sorry, but thoses rules apply only to Motor vehicles. See my comment to this topic under my answer to: Is it illegal to ride a drunk horse? Jun 5, 2023 at 9:40
  • @quarague perhaps they can fine the culprit for violating civil aviation regulations.
    – phoog
    Jun 5, 2023 at 10:59
  • @phoog Doubts were expressed from 'officialdom' that even if found that the €25 fine could not be paid. So the matter was closed due to it being disproportionate. Jun 5, 2023 at 11:33
  • @MarkJohnson what happens to a human who cannot pay a fine of this sort?
    – phoog
    Jun 5, 2023 at 11:44

It’s possible there is no copyright

I’m not familiar with the specifics of German copyright law, but, in general, a photograph must have an author to be protected by copyright.

As far as I know, it has not been litigated but it’s possible that a photo taken by an automated camera has no author and, therefore, no copyright.

A counter argument is that the technician who set up the camera, choosing its field of view and the parameters by which it is triggered is sufficient to make them the author.

Assuming that is the case, then the technician owns the copyright and the person who engaged the technician has full economic rights. Unlike English speaking countries, copyright in Germany does not recognise the “work for hire” doctrine and does not allow transfer of copyright except by inheritance.

So, you would need the technician’s permission to use it and the states permission to profit from it. Subject to the normal exceptions.

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    This is doubtfull. A Speeding Photo (Blitzfoto) is an integral portion (evidence) of the fine notice (Bußgeldbescheids) issued by the responsible authority (Bußgeldbehörde). That authority would be the creator (Urheber) of the document and since their name is on the notice fullfils the condition of §10 - Presumption of authorship or ownership - Act on Copyright and Related Rights (Urheberrechtsgesetz – UrhG). So it may very well protected. Jun 3, 2023 at 1:31
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    @MarkJohnson they can claim copyright but they don’t have it unless there is a human author which is doubtful. In any even, an organization in Germany cannot own copyright (except through a bequest) because German copyright is not transferable
    – Dale M
    Jun 3, 2023 at 5:55
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    See §5 Official works in the above link. My doubts were about the technician’s permission of your answer. Jun 3, 2023 at 19:55
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    §5 UrhG (1) Acts, statutory instruments, official decrees and official notices, as well as decisions and official head notes of decisions do not enjoy copyright protection. - The speeding ticket is an official notice of a fine.
    – Trish
    Jun 3, 2023 at 20:39
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    @Trish but the photograph was created independently of the official notice before the official notice existed. It was the evidence upon which the official notice was based. The fact that it was included along with the official notice does not turn it itself into an official notice.
    – phoog
    Jun 3, 2023 at 22:30

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