Open for Debate: Blogging and Photo Sharing Ethics

Here’s a fun situation for you: you’re in a limo with a well known lifecaster – you know, one of those people who shares everything they’re doing on the web. She spends a good chunk of the ride talking about lifecasting. You’re on your way to a blogger party. You take a couple pictures (with the flash), along with a bunch of other pictures you’re taking.

Question 1)

Do you need permission to post those pictures of them?

Question 2)

Do you need permission if you’re posting pictures of them with the subject’s name?

Question 3)

Say a photo shows a bit of leg, but nothing as risqué, but nothing so much as event a hint of underwear or anything PG-13. Do you need permission to post it?

Question 4)

Does it matter if they knew you were taking the picture or not?


These questions, not surprisingly, are based on something I’m dealing with right now. This goes back to the Consumer Electronics Show last month, as the lifecaster later sent me an email entitled “Ethics of Photography Request,” and insinuated my posting the photo without her permission was unethical.

I’m curious what you think, and I may well have more to follow up on later.


Follow up: there’s already one great comment, and I’m curious to get others. Do we need more formal photo policies?

And one final point: while the questions may be leading and may reflect bias, I’m hoping to learn from this – and namely learn from the community.

15 thoughts on “Open for Debate: Blogging and Photo Sharing Ethics

  1. Dave: You are ahead of the curve and leading this fight so far in this developing social-web, good luck buddy. I believe that your intentions were decent And obviously that person you speak of is playing silly games, clearly. However the post makes a question about a not-so-silly issue. One of the applicable Laws is the right to privacy & that law may differ from state to state, right to privacy extends to non-profit situations also it can be argued that web traction is a measure of profit if your blog gains popularity arguably is a profit. Let’s consider who has chosen not to charge its users nor adds it doesn’t mean they are a non-commercial outfit.
    The Justice system has stayed ignorant of the web and blogs 4Long but that will change inevitably especially since the legacy media/DinosaurusPapers scramble and lobby Congress to gain favors.
    I live in Rochester, Upstate NY the cradle of photography and home to the Eastman Kodak Co. One particular friend of mine has worked as a professional photographer for almost 30 years and we often have talked about this subject at one point. He uses photos without model release forms by making sure their faces won’t show
    i know it sucks but CYA is better than sorry. b well&happy

  2. more links:
    from the American Society of Media Photographers: “Why we take this seriously. Most of the time, you take your pictures, everybody gets paid and that’s the end of it. Once in a while, though, things can go very wrong.
    An article in the Los Angeles Times for Feb. 1, 2005 (no longer available online) described how Nestlé got slapped with a $15 million jury award because it used a model’s picture without taking care of the paperwork. In this case, there was no blame on the photographer; rather, the client (Nestlé) was accused of failing to pay all the fees that were specified in the model’s contract. But the size of the verdict shows that juries do take model’s rights very seriously.”
    have gr8 day & don”t sweat the small stuff

  3. Question 1)
    Do you need permission to post those pictures of them?
    Question 2)
    Do you need permission if you’re posting pictures of them with the subject’s name?
    Not really. If they’re a known entity and your camera had a flash they knew what was going on and could have asked you to put the camera away. I photographed David Lynch once and put his name on it. That was at a reading, though so he kinda expected it and so even though he’s not looking at the camera I know he was aware of its being taken. It was also with a class camera. I’ve also posted photos of myself taken with Maxine Waters and Michael Gondry and felt okay about posting them. There was no flash camera being used (far as I recall) but they posed for the photos with me. The lifecaster would, obviously be expecting those photos also, whether or not he/she was posing. Plus, as the story specifies, the camera had a flash.
    Question 3)
    Say a photo shows a bit of leg, but nothing as risqué, but nothing so much as event a hint of underwear or anything PG-13. Do you need permission to post it?
    That one I’m not comfortable concluding without seeing the photo. Would, first and foremost, depend on the age of the subject of the photograph. If the lifecaster were a child then absolutely not. It would also depend on what the subject’s celebrity was based on. If it was, for example, a rape victim then something like that would also be distasteful. If, on the other hand, it was a Playmate or Sports Illustrated Swimsuit model then I’d be pretty whatever about it. I’d absolutely have to see the photo and know the context to know.
    Question 4)
    Does it matter if they knew you were taking the picture or not?
    If you were in the limo with them and using a flash then I think it’d be pretty obvious.

  4. I haven’t heard this yet, but I’m sure as social media evolves it will be an issue. I agree with Christine. I believe the rules of photography currently is if you are in a place that you don’t expect the right of privacy (i.e. shopping mall, sporting event, or other public event) then there should be no problem posting. If you were in a private event I would say, as a general rule, ask permission to post things. Do this especially if you don’t know the person well. Better to be safe then sorry. It will avoid headaches like this

  5. Redserpent, you mention "the law" – but there's no commercial application here, as noted on your website. Even the photo is under a creative commons license. I can't and won't profit from it in any way. 

  6. To Mike's point, that is one of those things that caught me off-guard – I mean, a lifecaster wearing a revealing enough dress (I was actually wondering if she was in town for the OTHER convention held during CES…) who doesn't want to be photographed? It's sort of like asking for someone's number at a singles event only to get slapped in the face with them saying they're just there for the drinks. 

  7. Question 1 – No, you used your best judgment based on the context of the person and the situation… you would assume a butcher knows something about meat, right?
    Question 2 – See answer to question one… this person lives/breathes social media (and lifecasting), they want their name to be out there.
    Question 3 – For me it would depend on the person, their personality, and how well I knew them. If you question the photo for one second (about being risque) than I would say don’t post it.
    Question 4 – It depends on the setting, if there are 1,000 people in a crowd and you post that picture, there is no way all of them would be aware of you taking the photo. But in a more intimate setting, like a limo (if you can call that intimate), I would say that yes the person should know your taking a picture of them… otherwise it could get weird.
    Overall I think people need to have a personal “policy” about photographs of them. If they don’t want them posted and/or taken, then just ask kindly not to be in a photo. But if you position yourself as someone who is in the “business” of making your everyday life public then, yet another picture of you on a blog, should be a good thing.
    Just my two sense, look forward to hearing your panel at SXSW – take care.

  8. Yeah man, assuming she knew you took the picture, saying that it was unethical is absurd. Does she have the right to ask you after the fact to take a picture down? Of course. But to insinuate that you did something that was not ethical is just not right.
    If she’s really a lifecaster then I’d be curious if she gets written permission from every person that ends up in a picture or video with her. How many hundreds of people are in the background of her shots a month? And my guess is most of them didn’t know they were in the shot.
    Don’t sweat it.

  9. I really appreciate all this. I've actually gone ahead and deleted the photo in question from public viewing.
    I would have done so right away but the person in question approached me as if I was some malicious paparazzi, and not a fellow member of the social media community. If she was all carrot, no stick, I wouldn't have been inclined to stick to my guns and turn this into an issue. So I'll admit here my pride got in the way of my kinder instincts. 

  10. It seems to me that she may want full rights to her lifecasting. I would have assumed publishing the pictures would be okay as long as she knew you were taking them. However, even in the case of FaceBook, people get up-in-arns about friends publishing pictures. Maybe it’s best moving forward to at least casually mention that the pictures may be published. It can’t hurt.

  11. Was the person aware you were taking photographs? Were you in an extremely public place where others could take photographs? Those 2 questions are key. If the answer to both is yes, then I don’t believe that there is justification to complain. Any of us, are open to being photographed while in public.
    If you are well known enough to have a photography policy, make it known it known at the outset, I suppose.

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