Before that picture is included in your newsletter, added to your church’s website or posted on FaceBook, Instagram, YouTube, etc., what should church leaders be aware of?
There are two issues involved when it comes to pictures and video. The first one is ownership of intellectual property and the second is right to privacy.
Who Owns That Picture?
When someone takes a picture (or video), they own those images or video. However, if they are a paid employee of your church or the diocese and take pictures or shoot a video while they are working, the church owns their work and the copyright to it. This is because it is considered a
work made for hire. (Note: This applies to other intellectual property such as sermons, articles in the newsletter, meditations, etc.)
If you recruit a volunteer to take pictures for the church and you want to use the pictures (or video) you can either ask them to sign an agreement ahead of time giving the rights to the church or just giving the church permission to use the image. The advantage to getting the full rights is you control the image and it prevents the photographer from coming back later and asking for payment or saying you can’t use their image in the way you want to. You would usually give them the right to use it for personal use, but not for any other use. If the volunteer photographer retains the right to their image and gives the church the right to use it, you might find the same image being used by the volunteer in a way that reflects badly on the church. So you at least will want the volunteer to let you know ahead of time so you can plan accordingly.
The Right to Privacy
The second issue regarding your church using pictures and videos is the right to privacy. Generally consent must be given before someone’s image can be published or broadcast. The only exception is when an image they appear in can be considered news or in a public “crowd” (such as a worship service). If you publish that picture of a cute kid and didn’t get the child’s parent to sign a photo release, you could be sued by that child’s parent. Be especially careful around foster children (who are protected by law) and visitors (who are more likely to be offended by showing up in one of your church photos than a member might be).
The need for a photo release applies to employees and volunteers — even if that volunteer photographer took the photo and didn’t sign the copyright over to the church. The church is liable because the employee or volunteer was serving as an agent of the church. And that employee or volunteer could also be personably liable for invasion of privacy.
When Others Post Pictures Online
What if someone who is not serving as a volunteer of the church happens to take pictures of children at your church and posts them on their Facebook page? Unlike church employees or volunteers, they are not an agent of the church, and they own their images. So, the church has no legal say in how the pictures can be used and isn’t liable.
A Simple Precaution
One simple precaution to take around children is to make sure you never post a picture of a child with a nametag. Doing so provides a child molester with an advantage as they can call the child by name (even if they just recognize them from the picture) which makes them feel more familiar and safe, increasing the likelihood that a child will follow their directions. If you are in a situation where the children might be photographed by others, avoid giving them nametags to help mitigate this danger.
Use Photo Releases Regularly
Many churches have parents sign a photo release when they register their child for Sunday School or VBS. Another good time is if your church is doing a photo directory — have everyone sign general releases at that time. But again, as a precaution, don’t post your photo directory (or even your printed directory with names and addresses) online and don’t have copies available at the back of the church. Pass them out to members and not to strangers.
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