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What to Know Before You Post Those Photos

What to do regarding the use or photos and/or the posting of photos on social media?  It’s difficult to give an absolute answer regarding what is right or what is wrong because it’s an evolving area of the law and as such, there is not a definitive answer.  Ultimately, it’s a matter of how conservative an organization wants to be in this area.  If you want to be absolutely certain there will be no legal consequences, then you’ll need to obtain the signed consent of the parents of every child who appears on any photo or video. For adults, the same signed consent would apply if again you wanted to take an exceptionally conservative stance.  Obviously in all cases that’s not always practical so then you just need to look at some “best practices”.

What to Know Before You Post Those Photos:

Best Practice Options/Suggestions:

  • Implied Consent (Option1) :  The church posts the following on signs at all entrances.  “All church activities may be taped and photographed for church uses.  Entry into any church building constitutes consent to be photographed or taped for church purposes”.  If the signs are conspicuous and located outside every entrance, a court may find that the church provided adequate notice to the subjects and that no invasion of privacy occurs when the church photographs them.  A church might also consider posting additional signs outside and inside the children’s area so that parents will receive notice of the church’s photography and videoing activities.
  • Implied Consent (Option 2):  Instead of posting signs everywhere, you could list the same language in your church bulletin (weekly) and/or if you have a video board that displays announcements before church, you could list it there but the former is generally preferred.  The use of the signs is generally encouraged in the children’s area.
  • Implied Consent (Option 3):  If you have an outdoor event for example where the general public is invited (more so than a normal church activity), it might be good to place similar signage in an obvious place(s).
  • It’s advisable to include a written consent on specific children’s activities where other paperwork is already required.
  • Always be ready to remove a photo if someone asks you to.
  • Always ask permission to use close-ups of people.
  • When taking photos of children, get permission before taking it.
  • Use discretion and always use photos of people looking their best.
  • If it’s a funny/goofy/silly photo, ask before using it and use discretion on any photo caption.
  • Remember, once you’ve used a photo online, it’s really hard to insure that it’s been completely removed. Photos can be copied and downloaded easily, so it is better to error on the side of caution.

Also, note that the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) is often mentioned but generally it does not apply to churches and does not apply unless the church’s postings contain or collect personal information.  However each individual owns his or her likeness or other identifiable characteristic.  Put another way, each person owns their own face.  No one may use his or her face in any commercial manner without consent.  If the church uses the video or image to promote the church or make them available on the web, the courts may find that the church used the images in a commercial manner and could create an invasion of privacy lawsuit.

As you can see, it’s hard to pinpoint the perfect method of “what to do” but as a general rule – the more people in the picture the lesser the risk, the fewer people down to a single person the higher the risk.