Whose Picture is it Anyway?

Lots of news stories lately about data and privacy on the internet. Facebook in particular has been in the Congressional soup over data-mining by third parties. For employers, and particularly non-profits, there is the question of whether we can use images of employees, volunteers or program participants. Cell phone cameras are ubiquitous and give the opportunity to capture great marketing moments such as the closing on a new home or purchase of a car. Can we use these pictures in our business?

Photographs are subject to copyright laws. Generally, unless you have paid someone to take the picture for you, the copyright belongs to the photographer, not to the subject. For the social media sites I have reviewed, they will not take down a picture unless the photograph is illegal (e.g. child pornography) or you are the owner of the copyright on the photograph. Facebook’s new policies do allow a parent or guardian to request the removal of their child under the age of 13. From 13-18 either the child or a parent/guardian can make the request.

People acting in public do not generally have an expectation of privacy. Which means photos taken of these people are fair game. There is no consent necessary to use these photos. The limitation is whether your use violates that persons “right of publicity.” This law says a person’s likeness cannot be used for commercial purposes without their permission. So, you cannot put my face on your cereal box without my permission.

Does it mean you cannot post a picture of me attending an event at your place of business? I think not, but these are questions that deserve discussion with your legal counsel. Of course, the safe route is to have the person sign a simple consent form before posting their picture. This keeps the happy customer from becoming the unhappy customer.