Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Photographers' Rights Aren't Always So Clear

A colleague of mine was covering a children's sports event recently and she wanted a photo of the winners in various categories at the end of the competition. One of the parents said she did not want her child's photo published unless it was without his name. That presented a dilemma and brought up a question of rights about what can be photographed and what can be published.

My take on it was that my friend could photograph and publish anything taking place at this public event, where the children's names were being broadcast over a public address system and their names were part of a public list of winners.

So today, Jill Elswick, who writes occasionally for our magazine (Valley Business FRONT) has a Facebook post of my old pal Andrew Kantor's column in USA Today, talking about some of the same issues. It's worth your time if you take photos in public places and wonder if what you're doing is legal. Andrew's take is that just about anything you want to shoot is legal. If it feels like you're doing something wrong, you probably are, but the boundaries in this area are wide, indeed.

Here's an example of how complex it gets: "if you shoot individual kids playing in a school football game, you can't try to sell those shots to the parents; the kids have a right to the use of their likeness. You can sell photos of the game in general, though, and any shots where what's happening ("A player celebrates a goal") is more important than who's doing it ("Star running back John Doe takes a momentary rest").

"Sound like a gray area? It is if you're planning to sell the pictures, but not if you're simply displaying them. And if you're using them for news purposes, all bets are off — you can pretty much publish whatever you want if it happens in public view."

Andrew talks a bit about the fact that you can't photograph on military installations and, from my experience, that includes children's soccer games on the grounds of the VA Hospital in Salem. I stopped there a couple of years to take a shot of kids playing as the sun set--a truly beautiful sight--and was all but shot by a woman who said she was a security guard and barked, "You can't take photographs on government property!" I don't know how right she was about that, but her gun made the point pretty well.

(Image: cancum-photographer.com)

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