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The photo, the net and the law

IMG_4615-EditDigital technology and the net are reforming so many things, among them photography. Do you remember when we used to develop films with 2 or 3 summer holidays on the same roll, and then bury the prints deep in the family album? Now we can snap hundreds of shots a day and share them on the net in real-time. If you are lucky your shared shot or video can get more viewers than a small newspaper has readers. The newspaper is made by professionals who know the ethical and legal aspects of publishing. But do you know? How do you decide if it is OK to publish a shot or not? Or to take the photo in the first place? With common sense? That’s OK, it’s a good start. But I suggest that you get familiar with some of the basic legal aspects too.

You know how it is to ask a lawyer if something is legal or not. It’s impossible to get a straight answer. I start to understand why when digging into this problem. There are really so many aspects that matter and many things that aren’t black and white (no pun intended). And on top of that, the international aspect. Laws are different in every country. I have been looking a long time for a good and comprehensive guide that covers photo law in different countries. In vain so far.

That’s an indication about how big and complex the issue is. But I’m going to give it a try anyway. I have tried to list the basic principles in a very compact form. This list can’t be very precise as it isn’t country specific. So be aware that the law in a specific country can differ from what’s stated below. But the risk that your camera puts you in trouble should be significantly lower if you know at least these principles.

To take a photo

  • It is generally OK to take photos in public places, but some limitations may apply.
    • Taking photos that present a person in a defamatory way may be banned.
    • Taking photos of police officers may be banned.
    • Taking photos of military installations and critical infrastructure may be banned.
    • Taking photos of monumental buildings may be restricted or banned.
  • It is generally OK to take photos of other persons without permission in public places, but some may have a personal problem with that. It’s polite to comply and cease shooting if someone complains, but these persons do typically not have any legal right to prevent others from photographing them. Unless the shooting can be seen as harassment. Also keep in mind that there may be cultural restrictions. It’s for example considered bad habit to photograph priests, monks and nuns in some countries.
  • What’s a public place has typically nothing to do with ownership. It’s a place that the public has free access to, even if it isn’t owned by a public institution. Events and transportation that the public can buy tickets to freely do typically also qualify as public places.
  • Some public places, like shopping centers or shops, try to limit or ban photography. Those rules may or may not be legally binding, depending on local legislation. Many shop owners seem to know as little as their customers about the laws regulating photo.
  • Photography is typically not allowed without permission in private places and events for invited guests. You should always ask for permission before taking a shot in someone else’s home. Regardless what your local law says, that’s common sense IMO.
  • Vehicles where you can stay overnight may be considered private places just like homes. Ordinary cars do not belong to this category.
  • Taking photos of kids is typically no different from other kinds of photography from legal point of view. Many parents have however became wary about having pictures of their kids online because of increasing media coverage about pedophilia. So it’s best to be careful when shooting others’ children. Talk to the parents first, if possible.
  • Remember that knowing the law and your rights to photograph is important, but so is common sense. If you face a photography ban that is in violation of your legal rights, it’s up to you if you want to challenge the ban or save both parties some trouble. Is it worth it?

Copyright and licenses

  • The creator of a creative work, like a photo or a video, has automatically the right to decide about how the work can be used, and to be compensated if the work creates profit. It’s a bit like ownership and it is called copyright.
  • Copyright exists automatically. You do not have to apply for it, register the work somewhere or even put a copyright statements in the corner of your photo.
  • The copyright holder is the person who has done the creative work, i.e. came up with the idea for the photo. It doesn’t matter who pressed the shutter button or who owns the camera.
  • Copyright can be transferred to someone else, which is like giving away the ownership. The copyright holder can also grant licenses to use the work. It is very important to understand the difference between these two.
  • There are no usage rights by default. It means that you basically can’t do anything with a photo taken by someone else without permission from the copyright holder. And vice versa for others using your shots. There are however exceptions to this. The fair use concept in US is one example. It states that minor insignificant use is OK without permission, like use for private or some educational purposes.
  • If you own the copyright, you have free hands to grant, or refuse to grant, others the right to use your photo. Such rights are called a license. A license can be any kind of free form statement that:
    • Specify what work it affects.
    • Specify who it grants rights to, or grant rights to anyone who want to use the work.
    • Can specify how the copyright holder shall be compensated.
    • Can demand that the copyright holder shall be attributed.
    • Can limit the rights to a defined period of time.
    • Can limit the rights to a specific kind of use.
    • Can limit the rights geographically.
    • Can be exclusive, meaning that the copyright holder agrees to not grant any conflicting licenses to others.
  • Creative Commons (CC) is a widely used ready-made system for granting generic licenses to use your photos. This is a nice way to share shots if you don’t mind others using them for free. There are several kinds of CC-licenses, for example licenses that exclude commercial use.

 To publish a photo

  • Remember that taking a photo and publishing it is two different things. You do not necessary have the right to publish even if it’s OK to take the photo.
  • You can generally publish your own shots freely as long as it is done as a private person on a hobby basis. Like sharing on Facebook or Flickr.
  • Publishing a shot that presents a recognizable person in a defamatory situation, state or context is most likely illegal.
  • Be careful when publishing pictures of others’ children. It’s typically legal, but the parents may have issues with it.
  • People usually can’t prevent others from photographing them in public places, but they have the right to decide if shots of them can be used commercially. An approval of this kind is called a model release. It is a document where a person who is recognizable in the picture grants rights to use the image. A similar property release may sometimes be needed for shots showing buildings etc.
  • Some companies are guarding their brands rigorously. They may have a problem if they see their brand exposed in a published photo in a way they don’t like. You may get a letter that threat you with legal actions unless you remove the photo. There’s typically little or no legal substance behind these threats, as companies and brands typically aren’t protected against libel etc. in the same way as individuals. You may comply, ignore them or ask for more details about what paragraphs they refer to and under what jurisdiction. That may make them go away.
  • You do by default not have any rights to publish others’ photos (exceptions exist, see for example fair use in US). Many photographers are however adopting a liberal attitude against sharing and publish their work under a CC-license, or similar. If you need to illustrate something, you can search the net for CC-images for example on Flickr. This is how I get most of the pictures I use in these blog posts. Remember to credit the photographer! That’s a small token of appreciation compared to the value you get.
  • But what about sharing in social media, Facebook for example? If you take a picture file and upload it so that it is visible to anyone, then it is definitively publishing. But sharing a photo that someone else has uploaded to Facebook is totally different. What you do is really to tell others that the picture exist and where they can find it. You just share a pointer to it, not the image itself. That is of course always OK and only limited by the privacy settings of the photo.

As said. This summary is an attempt to list some generic fundamentals that should be valid pretty much everywhere. That’s a good start, but if you are a serious photographer you should educate yourself with more accurate info for your own country. Also, what’s said about photos also applies to video.

Do you know of a good source that covers international photo law? Or a good guide for your own country? Then post a link as a comment to this article. Maybe there isn’t a comprehensive international guide, but a collection of links to guides for different countries is almost as good.

And finally. Quoting an excellent tweet from @Mikko. “Remember that legal advice you find on the net is worth every penny you paid for it.” Nice disclaimer, isn’t it. :)

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Your digital memories – will they vanish or persist?

If you like sailing and tall ships, I can recommend this podcast about Pam Bitterman’s book Sailing to the far horizon. It’s a great story about the last years of the community-operated ship Sofia, covering both a lot of happy sailing and the ship’s sad end in the early eighties. But this is not about hippies on a ship, it’s about how we record and remember our lives. In the podcast Pam tells us how the book was made possible by her parents saving her letters home. Perhaps they had a hunch that this story will be written down one day. Going on to state that e-mails and phone calls wouldn’t have been saved that way. That’s a very interesting point that should make us think. At least it made me think about what we will remember about our lives in, say, twenty years? We collect more info about what we are doing than ever before. We shoot digital pictures all the time and post status updates on Facebook. We are telling the world where we are, what we are doing and what we feel. Maybe in a way that is shallower than letters home, but we sample our lives at a very granular rate. The real question is however how persistent this data is? If we later realize we have experienced something unique enough to write a book about, have our digital life left enough traces to support us? Pam wrote the book about Sofia some twenty years later. A twenty year old paper is still young, but that’s an eternity in the digital world. Will you still be on the same social media service? Do you still have the same account or have you lost it. Does the service even exist? And what about your e-mails, have you saved them? How are your digital photos archived? You may even have cleaned up yourself to fit everything into a cheaper cloud account. Here’s something to keep in mind about retaining your digital life. Realize the value of your personal records. You may fail to see the value in single Facebook posts, but they may still form a valuable wholeness. If you save it you can choose to use it or not in the future. If you lose it you have no choice. Make sure you don’t lose access to your mail, social media and cloud storage accounts. That would force you to start fresh, which usually means data loss. Always register a secondary mail address in the services. That will help you recover if you forget the password. Use a password manager to avoid losing the password in the first place. Redundancy is your friend. Do not store important data in a single location. The ideal strategy is to store your files both on a local computer and in a cloud account. It provides redundancy and also stores data in several geographically separated locations. This is easy with younited because you can set it to automatically back up selected folders. Mail accounts have limited capacity and you can’t keep stuff forever. Don’t delete your correspondence. Check your mail client instead for a function that archives your mail to local storage. Check your social media service for a way to download a copy of your stuff. In Facebook you can currently find this function under Settings / General. It’s good to do this regularly, and you should at least do it if you plan to close your account and go elsewhere. Migrate your data when switching to a new computer or another cloud service. It might be tricky and take some time, but it is worth it. Do not see it as a great opportunity to start fresh and get rid of "old junk". If you are somewhat serious about digital photography, you should get familiar with DAM. That means Digital Asset Management. This book is a good start. Pam did not have a book in mind when she crossed the Pacific. But she was lucky and her parents helped her retain the memories. You will not be that lucky. Don’t expect your friends on Facebook to archive posts for you, you have to do it yourself. You may not think you’ll ever need the stuff, just like Pam couldn’t see the book coming when onboard Sofia. But you never know what plans the future has for you. When you least expect it, you might find yourself in a developing adventure. Make yourself a favor and don’t lose any digital memories. Safe surfing, Micke  

Oct 13, 2014
BY Micke
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On Ello you’re not a product, you’re a feature.

Most of us have some kind of relationship with Facebook. We either love it, hate it or ignore it. Some of us are hooked. Some have found new opportunities, and many have got themselves into a mess on Facebook. Some are worry-free and totally open while others are deeply concerned about privacy. But we probably all agree that Facebook has changed our lives or at least impacted our ways to communicate. Facebook has showed that social media is an important tool for both business and private affairs. Facebook was in the right place at the right time to become the de-facto standard for social media. But the success of Facebook is also what makes it scary. Imagine the power you have if you know everything about everyone in the civilized world. And on top of that with quite loose legislation about what you can do with that data. Ok, everything and everyone are exaggerations, but not too far from the truth. Others have tried to challenge Facebook, but no one has succeeded so far. One reason is that social media automatically is monopolizing. The most important selection criteria is where your friends are, and that drives everyone into one common service. The fact that even Google failed with Google+, despite their huge resources and a ready user base from services like Gmail, just underlines how solid Facebook’s position is. Ello is the latest challenger and they certainly have an interesting approach. Ello tries to hit Facebook straight in its weakest point and provide a service that respect user integrity. They may lack the resources of Google, but they can be credible in this area. The choice between Facebook and Google is like a rock and a hard place for the privacy minded, but Ello is different. Their manifesto says it all. Will Ello survive and will they be the David that finally defeats Goliath? Ello is in a very early phase and they certainly have a very long way to go. But remember that their success depends on you too. You may not be a product on Ello, but you are certainly a feature. The main feature, actually. The team can only provide a framework for our social interactions. But people to be social with is absolutely crucial for any social network. So Ello’s raise or fall is mostly in our hands now. They need enough pioneers to make it a vibrant society. The development team can make the service fail, but they can only create potential for success. Ello needs you to materialize that potential. So what’s my honest opinion about Ello? The fact that the service is based on privacy and integrity is good. We need a social media service like this. But there are also many open questions and dark clouds on Ello’s sky. People have complained about its usability. And yes, usability is quite weird in many ways. It’s also very obvious that Ello is too premature to be a tool for non-technical users. Now in October 2014, I would personally only invite people who are used to beta software. But both usability and the technical quality can be fixed, it just takes more work from the team. A bigger question mark is however the future business model of Ello. On Facebook you’re a product and that’s what pays for the “free” service. But how is Ello going to strike a balance between privacy and funding the operation? This is one of the big challenges. Another is if the privacy-promise really is enough? Many of us are already privacy-aware, but the vast majority is still quite clueless. What Ello needs is either a big increase in privacy awareness or something clever that Facebook doesn’t provide and can’t copy quickly. It may seem futile for a small startup to challenge Facebook. But keep in mind that Facebook was small too once in the beginning. Facebook showed us that we need social media. Perhaps Ello can show us that we need social media with integrity. But anyway, you are among those who decide Ello’s future by either signing up or ignoring it.   Safe surfing, @Micke-fi on Ello   Picture: ello.co screen capture

Oct 3, 2014
BY Micke
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Shellshock only concerns server admins – WRONG

Yet another high-profile vulnerability in the headlines, Shellshock. This one could be a big issue. The crap could really hit the fan big time if someone creates a worm that infects servers, and that is possible. But the situation seems to be brighter for us ordinary users. The affected component is the Unix/Linux command shell Bash, which is only used by nerdy admins. It is present in Macs as well, but they seem to be unaffected. Linux-based Android does not use Bash and Windows is a totally different world. So we ordinary users can relax and forget about this one. We are not affected. Right? WRONG! Where is your cloud content stored? What kind of software is used to protect your login and password, credit card number, your mail correspondence, your social media updates and all other personal info you store in web-based systems? Exactly. A significant part of that may be on systems that are vulnerable to Shellshock, and that makes you vulnerable. The best protection against vulnerabilities on your own devices is to make sure the automatic update services are enabled and working. That is like outsourcing the worries to professionals, they will create and distribute fixes when vulnerabilities are found. But what about the servers? You have no way to affect how they are managed, and you don’t even know if the services you use are affected. Is there anything you can do? Yes, but only indirectly. This issue is an excellent reminder of some very basic security principles. We have repeated them over and over, but they deserve to be repeated once again now. You can’t control how your web service providers manage their servers, but you can choose which providers you trust. Prefer services that are managed professionally. Remember that you always can, and should, demand more from services you pay for. Never reuse your password on different services. This will not prevent intrusions, but it will limit the damage when someone breaks into the system. You may still be hurt by a Shellshock-based intrusion even if you do this, but the risk should be small and the damage limited. Anyway, you know you have done your part, and its bad luck if an incident hurts you despite that. Safe surfing, Micke   PS. The best way to evaluate a service provider’s security practices is to see how they deal with security incidents. It tells a lot about their attitude, which is crucial in all security work. An incident is bad, but a swift, accurate and open response is very good.   Addition on September 30th. Contrary to what's stated above, Mac computers seem to be affected and Apple has released a patch. It's of course important to keep your device patched, but this does not really affect the main point of this article. Your cloud content is valuable and part of that may be on vulnerable servers.  

Sep 26, 2014
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