The following is from the Copyright Office‘s website:
Under the copyright law, the creator of the original expression in a work is its author. The author is also the owner of copyright unless there is a written agreement by which the author assigns the copyright to another person or entity, such as a publisher. In cases of works made for hire, the employer or commissioning party is considered to be the author.
Being the subject of a photograph does not give anyone a copyright to the picture. The copyright belongs to the photographer unless it is work-for-hire. The copyright belongs to the photographer’s employer in that case. Simply being given a print or digital copy of a photo doesn’t transfer the copyright either.
I don’t own most of the pictures of me on my various websites. Most are used under license or by permission. The few that I do own were made as works-for-hire.
Bill Schmalfeldt gets his panties in a knot over uses of his image by others, and he has tried to use the DMCA to get those images taken down. Many of the uses he’s complained of have been clear examples of Fair Use. In other cases he asserted ownership of pictures that he clearly did not make and probably doesn’t own.
In his most recent DMCA nonsense the Cabin Boy is claiming to own the copyright on a family snapshot. Perhaps he paid the photographer. Or perhaps he has a written transfer document. He’s threatening “further legal action.” If he’s serious, I suppose we’ll see his documentation when he produces it as part of the discovery any defendant will surely seek.
UPDATE—Even buying a print of a picture from a photographer doesn’t transfer the copyright to the buyer any more than buying a copy of a book would.