“Do I need permission to publish blurry or partial photos of people?”

“Do I need permission to publish blurry or partial photos of people?”

Q –

I need clarification on photo release forms. Do I need one for a picture in which faces are so distant or blurred that they are unrecognizable? What if you can see only 1/4 of the person’s face?

What if the people in the photo have their back to the camera? Do I need their permission? What about people in other countries?


A –

DISCLAIMER: I am not an attorney and this is not legal advice. Please consult with your attorney for any and all legal questions.

That said….

Different countries have different laws about people appearing in photographs. You would need to check the laws for countries where your foreign photos were taken.

In the U.S., if a photo is taken on public property, you don’t need permission to publish that photo, even if people are in it. People in public have no expectation of privacy. That’s why you see, for example, news footage of crowds of people in public places. Of course, journalists and publishers did not obtain permission from those people.

Read THIS EXCELLENT ARTICLE on that topic, which is called “street photography.”

If a photo is taken on private property, people do have an expectation of privacy. So, for example, if your buddy was at a party at your house, and you took a picture of him kissing a woman other than his wife, or skinny dipping, or doing shots (or worse!), you can’t publish any pictures without his written permission.

If someone is in the background, and not quite in focus, I recommend blurring the face more in a graphics program just to be safe. If they are completely blurry, and if you are confident that nobody will ever recognize that person, then it would probably be okay to publish his or her picture.

HOWEVER, what if you took a picture of a girl wearing a pink jumpsuit at your party? And, let’s assume her face is pretty blurry but she was the ONLY person at your party wearing a pink jumpsuit. Somebody else who attended your party might recognize her, tell a friend, etc., etc. And, what if she’d skipped work to come to your party and her boss found out and she got fired? The possibilities, of course, are endless here.

With all that in mind, I recommend:

  1. Only publishing pictures taken on public property.
  2. For private property photos, obtain permission from everyone in the photo.
  3. If you can’t, crop them out of the photo or blur the background so much that you can’t even tell a person was there.

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