by Wyatt Wood
As a semi-pro photographer I encounter unique situations everyday involving photography, rights management and social media. Note: every locality has their own laws that any person taking pictures should abide by – this post is not about the legality or rights of taking photos as a photographer (while it may touch on these points). Also in this post I am only speaking about legal/regional areas where I have personal experience, please share your own experiences and knowledge in the comments.
As an overview, in the US, there may be limitations to publishing a photo which you take. Essentially, for an amateur photograph, “the display of the photo can’t be maliciously untrue, or humiliate, ridicule, or reveal embarrassing and personal facts about a non-newsworthy person.” So to publish an image of someone you need their permission. Thus photographers carry Model Release forms for such purposes. However, if a person is out in public, they have no reasonable expectation of privacy so you can take their picture. So what does this have to do with social media? Aside from each network’s definition of media rights the usage of this media is expanding the connectivity and control of said digital property.
Since the dawn of the Internet, there have been battles over control and usage rights of digital media pushing beyond copyright. Recently, Facebook jumped into hot water over the issue of digital rights ownership when they changed their terms of service. I believe they are the most notable of any of the digital rights issues based on how outspoken the topic became and overall community reaction. Apparently this was resolved to include more descriptive information protecting the company from content being residual on a users profile etc. However, it begs the question who owns the rights?
During a photo shoot this past weekend, I was asked to solely publish the photos to Facebook and Flickr and tag the models, make up artist and clothing designer. I have all the appropriate releases and permissions. This is the first social media network only publication “release” that I’ve dealt with intrigued me to think about the implications. My Facebook account has switched from a way to just post personal (family) photos to now a distribution platform for other individual’s media.
In my mind this raises the question as to who owns legitimate rights to the photo? Technically, based on copyright since I took the photo, I own it. But ethically, the models who posed and the designers and other individuals who made the shot are also “involved” owners. So what if I decide I want to remove the photos or modify my account in some way that they are no longer accessible to the individuals tagged – do they have a (present or future) right to the media or choices to its publication?
Aside from the legal rights issue – the technical ability to find and tag these photos has been overcome. The release of the automatic Facebook app Photo Tagger , a free third-party application uses facial recognition technology to tag photos of people. Even Flickr has added the ability to tag friends, similar to Facebook, in a photostream. So the question about “ownership” becomes more complex given the many levels of licensing that Flickr (and other social networks) utilize.
After reading this facinating report on exposing that social media sites are less than helpful at letting photographers maintain control of their intellectual property I began to question if social media will help shift the focus of a photo being an individual’s right to manage – to a captured experience that anyone involved has a voice in publication and distribution? Not necessarily talking about quashing or censorship of digital media but rather crowd-sourcing ownership and rights management. Is there good to come from allowing users access to images, video or other digital media that may contain an image or clip of themselves regardless of the media owner?
Finally, with the explosion of mobile usage and the ability to capture still imagery and video and publish – beyond just a photo-journalistic approach what aspects should be considered to properly handle user rights?