March 6, 2012 at 9:22 pm #155027
Can a local government website use Editorial type photos without having a signed photo release?
March 7, 2012 at 2:39 pm #155031
I guess that depends Sherri – our small Fed site uses “editorial use only” photos from iStock with normal attribution. If you are using images of employees on the job, it depends on how your local contracts are worded, if citizenry, I would think you would be subject to the same rules as any news agency would be.
March 10, 2012 at 8:43 pm #155029
We constantly walk a tightrope with this — not only understanding what’s legal, but also what we need to do to maintain good relations with the public.
Our understanding is that if the photo was taken while the photographer was in a public place — that is, anyone could have walked by and seen the same thing — then it’s legal to use without a release, as long as you don’t say or suggest something about the person that isn’t true. For example, I can’t stand in a public park and take a picture of two people talking and use it to illustrate a web story about drug dealing, but I could use it to illustrate an article about the most popular parks in the county.
There are places that might technically be “public” but most people expect to have privacy — for instance, in a library. I could take a picture of a person checking out books and publish it on our website, and if the person didn’t like it and took us to court, we’d probably win the case…but we’d prefer not to be in a position where someone would want to sue us.
It also depends if the person in the photo is our client and we’re prohibited from identifying them because of privacy rules. Last summer we set up a number of emergency sites after part of Minneapolis was hit by a tornado. The sites were open to the public — meant for anyone who needed info or help. We and the media could take pictures of people entering the sites and at tables where they could get general help, but we couldn’t take identifiable photos of lines where people were applying for government financial assistance.
These rules apply to photos where a person can be identified. We don’t expect to get releases from a huge crowd of people or for a row of feet standing in a line, for example. And our attorneys have the opinion that it’s OK to put up a notice at an event, such as an educational program, telling people that it will be photographed or videotaped for promotional use by the county.
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