Photos are an important part of the social media experience. Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, and other social media sites are largely built on sharing photos with other members.
This past week I got a question from a blogger that I was introduced to. She wanted to know if there were any rules on posting pictures to her social media accounts. These were pictures that she had taken personally so this was not a case of trying to use photos that belong to someone else (that’s a post for another day).
The “obvious” answer seems to be “of course I can post my pictures to my social media accounts” and that is mostly correct. However, as with many areas of the law, it’s not always quite that simple. There are a number of factors that you should consider prior to posting your pictures to a social media account.
With that in mind, here are some basic rules. Enjoy.
1. In Public Places, Fire Away.
In general, if you are in a public place (a park, a street, the high school soccer field), you can take photos to your heart’s content and post them just about anywhere you want, subject to the other rules shown below. If you’re an amateur history buff and want to take pictures of interesting buildings, go ahead and publish your photos for the world to see. If you’re on vacation, seeing the sights and taking pictures, you should feel free to post them just about anywhere, for just about any purpose, unless you’ve included pictures of people in your photos.
2. In Private Places, Be Careful.
If you are in a private place (someone’s home, a private club, etc.) then the owner of the private place can choose what rules apply. They may allow you to take pictures or they may decide that photography is not allowed. If a “no photography” sign is posted, you should not take any pictures. If you have any doubts, ask. If you’re taking pictures in a private place and the owner of the private place tells you to stop taking pictures, you must stop. You may be considered trespassing if you don’t. Additionally, some public locations and buildings like court houses, military bases, and police stations may be considered private places where photography is not allowed.
3. What About Taking Photos of People?
Another important consideration is what we lawyers call the “expectation of privacy” in a given location. Just because you’re in a public space, it doesn’t mean you can photograph another person and use their image in any way that you’d like. For example, if you’re in a public bathroom, you can’t take pictures of people. Period. There is an “expectation of privacy” in a bathroom, a shower, a locker room, etc.
Similarly, you can’t stand outside your boyfriend’s house and use your telephoto lens to capture candid shots of him in his house. Not only is that illegal, it’s creepy so don’t do this.
If you take pictures of people, and you don’t intend to use them in a commercial activity, and the photos were captured in a public place, and you didn’t violate anyone’s expectation of privacy, then you are pretty much free to post the photos to your social media accounts without any concerns.
However, if you are going to commercialize your photos, you will typically need permission from any person whose likeness appears in your photos (if they are recognizable). So, you can’t go around taking a lot of pictures of cute kids on the street and then sell your images as stock photos through a stock photography agency. If you want to make money from your photos, you should have your subject sign a model release, authorizing you to commercialize their image prior to using the photo in a commercial activity. Commercial activity can include using the photo on your blog or Instagram account if you are using those social media accounts to generate revenue.
Remember – Be Smart. Be Legal.
Disclaimer – Yes, I’m a lawyer, but I’m not your lawyer. All information in this post is provided for educational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice for any person or specific situation.