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Print and principles

(I’m proud of the pseudo-Regency Blackadderesque title.)

Last Monday, the Gazette had on page A3 a story that featured Child Three, and the large photo that accompanied the story also featured Child Three.

That’s great and all, but something occurred me. No one asked us to sign a release for his picture.

We in the journalism department are keenly aware of Aubry v. Éditions Vice-Versa inc., in which the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that a person’s right to privacy outweighs a photographer’s freedom of expression.

What brought the case to court was a photographer who took a photo of a 17-year-old girl sitting on the street. The paper published the photo and the girl sued.

The Supreme Court decided that no one can publish a photo featuring a person unless you get the subject’s permission.

There are some exceptions. You may freely publish photos: of a subject who attend a public event such as a parade, demonstration, or sporting event where there is no expectation of privacy; of a subject who appears as incidental background; of a subject who is unidentifiable; of if the photograph is of the public interest.

How do I know all this? I said we in the journalism department are keen. We tell our students to always obtain permission to use a subject’s photo. We provide them with a boilerplate release form they can and should use.

None of these aforementioned exceptions apply to the photo of my son and the other children. I e-mailed Bryanna Bradley, the photographer, to ask whether she obtained permission to use the kids’ image from the camp. I asked if there was even a release signed at all.

Bryanna ducked my questions and told me to write Marcos Townsend, the Gazette’s acting photo editor, so I did. Here’s his informative reply, reprinted with permission (the barely visible bold highlights are mine):

Thank you for your the opportunity to answer your questions. Newspapers operate a little differently than commercial photographers who do require written consent in the form of a model release. Having a person tell us their name is considered sufficient consent for their photo to be published. In the case of a minor, we seek out the parent or if they are part of a group/school – as was the case with your son – we leave it to that group/school to sort out permission (as they would get permission for any other activity the child might be involved with while in their care). I am told the children had been asked beforehand to ask their parents if there would be any problem with their photos being published and there were no objections.

If you have the opportunity, please do pass on to your students that the courts do not require us to have a written release – circumstance or the person’s name usually indicates that we had publication permission. As a matter of courtesy, we always try to let people know why we are photographing them, but please understand why we rely on organizers to sort out permission for groups.

I hope I’ve been able to answer the crux of your question.

Interesting, and sensible. Maybe we journalism keeners are acting on the side of caution, and I wonder if that is a service to our students.

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