If you’ve ever been out and about trying to capture some great original, high-quality images for your brand and some of the photos you took had some people in them who were not aware; then congratulations, you just committed a felony. Please turn yourself into the authorities… kidding, kidding.
However, using people’s likeness for commercial purposes to promote your product, service, or brand can land you in pretty hot water. Today, we’re going to talk about when you have to use a release form for taking photos, as well as some key child photo laws to remember when gathering original images.
If someone is out in a public area, such as a park, then you are within your rights to photograph them. This is actually protected under the first amendment. So, if you are out on the street and trying to photograph the outside of your business or shop and someone walking by gets in the frame, you are well within your right to take that photograph. That being said, if someone requests that you don’t take their photo, we recommend you adhere to their request. Be courteous when outside taking photos of others.
If someone is on private property, then you do not have the right to photograph them. Some people may make the mistake of thinking that since they are on public property, they can take a photo of someone who is on private property. This is not the case. Any person who is in any photos you take must be in a public place or on public land.
Now, things get a little more tricky if you are inside a private property establishment (such as a restaurant) that is open to the public. Inside private properties that are open to the public is fair game. The only caveat is if there is a notice posted somewhere within the property that photos and videos are strictly prohibited, or if the owner tells you to stop.
Now you might ask since there are public restrooms, can I take photos of people in there?
Absolutely not, and shame on you for even asking. This goes back to the expectation of privacy outlined in the Fourth Amendment. Obviously, in the bathroom, there is a certain level of privacy that you are granted, despite being in a public place. A good rule of thumb, if you wouldn’t want your picture taken somewhere, then odds are other people wouldn’t either.
In what instances would you need someone to sign a release form? It all comes down to how you intend to use the photo. You CANNOT use someone’s likeness for commercial purposes without their permission. So, let’s say you end up using that aforementioned picture of your store with the stranger in it for your website header image. In this case, you would need the person to sign a release form.
You also cannot sell these images for another company to use. However, you can sell them to news organizations. You may have wondered how newspapers can use photos of crowds of people without getting their consent, yet can still sell their papers. This is because the image is used purely for editorial purposes.
When in doubt, keep this in mind: If you’re going to use a photo to promote anything (whether it’s your product, service, or brand), then a photo release is absolutely necessary.
There is a false belief among many parents that when it comes to someone taking pictures of their kids, the photographer must have them sign a release form beforehand. This is not the case. In fact, everything that was previously stated applies to kids as well, except instead of getting permission from the kids, you would need permission from their parents.
Although, there are a few things you should keep in mind. For example, states and municipalities have the right to make their own laws when it comes to photographing kids in public. School districts can do the same as well. Many street photographers agree that before taking pictures of kids, you should ask permission from the parents beforehand.
If you do have permission to use pictures of people in your promotions, you might only have the rights to use them for a certain period of time. If this is the case, a digital rights management (DRM) tool is helpful to track usage and make sure the photos aren’t used after they expire. Digital asset management (DAM) systems like MediaBeacon can often integrate with DRM tools so that you can store all of your photos in a single source and control when and how they are used.