I often counsel people to be especially careful about what they post online as it reflects on themselves. Post a picture of you over-enjoying beers at a beach party and it may have a negative impact on you when you seek a job.
Or if a friend posts the picture and you object, what can you do about it? Untag yourself from the photo, sure; but can you remove the photo? No, the only way to get it removed is to ask the person who posted it to remove it.
All these possibilities lead to one over-riding rule for posting photos online, especially photos of other people, double especially for photos of children. When you take the photos, let the people know you’d like to post them, and ask their permission, or ask the permission of the child’s parents. (The easiest time to do this is right when you take the photo.) You could save a friendship.
But what about photos you’ve posted? Is a photo you post on an Internet social media site fair game for anyone to copy and use; is it in the “public domain?”
Chelsea Chaney, was a high school senior at Starr's Mill High School in Fayetteville, Georgia when a photo she posted of herself in a red bikini appeared in a slide show her school prepared and presented titled, “Internet Safety.”
ABC News, along with other news media, reported that Chelsea was suing her school district for $2,000,000 for having used the photo without her permission.
But, you say, she posted it online. Doesn’t that make it in the public domain and usable by anyone? Certainly, Chelsea doesn’t think so. And neither does her lawyer: "The photo was used without Chelsea's permission, and it was chosen because she is a very attractive girl who was in a bikini, something that can be easily twisted and used as an example of how one humiliates themselves on the Internet," said Pete Wellborn, Chaney's attorney.
In an article on the Texas Center for Community Journalism website Chip Stewart, Assistant Professor at TCU Schieffer School of Journalism, explains that a photo you shoot and put up on the Internet is protected by copyright. “Why shouldn't the person who took that photo be entitled to the same kind of protection that, say, a professional photographer should if somebody used his or her work without paying for it?” And, Stewart goes on to point out, “People who feel hurt will find ways to hurt you back, and they have all the legal rights they need if you violate their copyright by reposting a photo. So don't do it.”
If you do want to post or repost a photo someone else has taken, your best bet is to contact the photographer and ask permission. And get the permission writing. Otherwise don’t post it. Legalities aside, it’s the polite thing to do.
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About the author
Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers' questions in The Boston Sunday Globe's weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. Post is the co-author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business" and conducts business etiquette seminars across the country. In October 2003 his book "Essential Manners For Men" was released and quickly became a New York Times best seller. He is also the author of "Essential Manners for Couples," "Playing Through–A Guide to the Unwritten Rules of Golf," and co-author of "A Wedding Like No Other." Post is Emily Post's great-grandson. His media appearances include "CBS Sunday Morning," CBS's "The Early Show," NBC's "Today," ABC's "Good Morning America," and "Fox News."