As parents struggle to protect their children’s online privacy with social media, some may be sensitive to other resources – such as newspapers (in print or online) – that post photos of their children.
Some parents’ fears may come from recent stories such as the one in which Tennessee parents Pamela and Bernard Holland filed a suit, against Cox Media and others for using edited versions of a photo of their son with Down syndrome. Employees of the defendants used the photo (originally published legitimately on a Nashville news site) without permission and edited it to include “’offensive’ mischaracterizations.”
While this may be an extreme case, parents are wary of how their children’s photos will be used. What many do not know, according to attorney Bert P. Krages II, is that any person has a legal right to take photographs in a public place or on property for which he or she has been given permission to be present. Other people in these areas cannot have the “reasonable expectation of privacy” that they do in their homes. Children in public areas are included on his list of “permissible subjects.”
Journalists who interview children may request that release forms be signed; however, they are not required to ask parents to complete them if they take general photos in public areas. Additionally, if reporters ask parents to spell the names of their children, they are tacitly giving consent for the photos to be used because they know they are speaking with journalists.
Heather Mullinix, assistant editor at The Crossville Chronicle (Tennessee), said, “The Children’s Parade they do on the Fourth of July – I cover that almost every year. Do you get these parents’ permission? Well, I’m usually asking for these kids’ names after I get the photo, if that’s at all possible, but they are on a public street, so we’re OK.
“I’m under no legal mandate to respect that because they put their kids in a public place on a public street, but it’s one of those common sense type things.”
Mullinix said that, if parents do ask her not to publish a photo because of extenuating circumstances, she typically complies “especially in this size market. We live here. We work here. … So you have to be responsible even if it’s legally OK. You still have to have some good sense.”
The Associated Press says that journalists do not need to seek parental consent if a newsworthy story is in progress, children are not clearly recognizable, parent contact would put children in danger, or a teenager is participating in a noncontroversial activity.
“If you participate in athletics, you typically have a waiver,” said Mullinix. That’s part of it. … A football game is a public venue.
“But if I’m doing a one-on-one interview or go into a classroom to take a picture, I’m like, ‘Hello. I’m Heather. I’m from the Chronicle.’
“I go into the schools quite a bit and do things, and I depend on [the school administration] to work with me on things.”
Krages wrote on his website, “For the most part, attempts to restrict photography are based on misguided fears about the supposed dangers that unrestricted photography presents to society.”
For parents concerned about their children’s photos being published in print or online, Mullinix said, “An ounce of prevention is best. It’s great to ask questions when a reporter wants to interview you. … Just a simple, ‘How do you plan to use this?’ Anyone legitimate would be happy to tell you why.”