Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Stopped Taking Photos Because of Photo Releases

Dear RIch: I work for a non-profit and my board members are obsessed with getting photo releases - but as they don't have a good one and they often want to photograph events with LOTS of people - they refrain from taking photos at all. I was under the impression that unless a photo was going to be sold, no release was needed. Is there a guideline that will enlighten both myself and my board about when photos and video that will be used for things like social media and newsletters require releases from their subjects?  I am afraid this question is going to lead to a "it varies from state to state" answer. Actually, the answer doesn't vary from state to state (and in any case the Dear Rich Staff would never do you like that!) By the way, you might get more out of reading this discussion or by having your nonprofit spring for this book.
You need a release if ...  A properly drafted release basically shields you from lawsuits over two things: (1) you're using someone's image to sell or endorse something; or (2) using the image in a way that harms the person --  it invades the person's privacy or defames the person or otherwise gets them so upset that they call a lawyer and go after the publisher of the photo and sometimes the photographer. 
You do not need a release if ... You do not need a release to use a person's name or image for informational purposes. An informational (or "editorial") purpose is anything that informs, educates, or expresses opinions protected as freedom of speech. So if you have a section of your website such as "About Our Members" or you include the images in your non-profit newsletter -- for example, "Members Protest Disney World Mouse Exploitation," then you wouldn't need a release. 
Finally ... although it doesn't have the full legal punch of a release, you can always prominently post your photo policy at group gatherings -- a statement such as "We'll be taking photos at our event and posting them at our website. If you don't wish to be included, please inform the photographer."