Photo Releases: Yes, No, or Maybe So?
Today’s topic - photo releases. Yes, no, or maybe so?
Many churches are doing a great job telling stories in the digital space using image-rich content. Authentic photos of church members engaged in ministry and relationships express more than a written description ever could. Live stream and pre-recorded video bring worship and music to a new audience far beyond the church walls.
In most instances, merely taking pictures or videos does not invoke privacy concerns; however, depending on how you plan to use the images, it is always a good practice to secure permission before sharing them in print or digital media.
Some considerations and tips:
- Images used to convey “news” typically do not require the permission of those pictured. In other words, a website or social media post featuring an image of your congregation gathered for a Christmas service may not require a photo release from everyone pictured.
- Images used for promotion should only be used with permission. People have rights in determining how their likenesses can be used when it comes to promoting goods, causes, or services. This means that in posting something as innocuous as a picture of last year’s Christmas service to promote this year’s service, technically you should have permission from everyone pictured. Certainly images used in stewardship, capital, or other fund-raising campaigns should be images for which you have secured permission.
- Crowd releases may offer you a means to obtain permission when it is challenging to obtain individual permissions from everyone present - such as at a large worship service. This is a blanket statement either posted prominently in a large gathering space, or in a service bulletin, or on a receipt or ticket stub, that informs participants that they may be photographed or video recorded; and that the resultant images may be used without compensation by the church for promotional purposes in digital or print media.
- You may want to consider a strategy of obtaining individual photo releases from your congregation on a regular (perhaps annual) basis. Again, this is boilerplate language securing permission to use without compensation any photos or videos taken during church activities for church promotional purposes in digital or print media. These are especially important for images of clearly identifiable individuals rather than large group shots.
- Protocols for using children’s images are more stringent. You should not use images of children or minors without having secured written permission for each individual depicted; indeed there are laws requiring permission to photograph children in some jurisdictions. One way to secure this permission is to include photo and video release language on all program and event registration forms. This helps to ensure that you have permission to utilize images for both members and visiting participants. You may want to phrase your language as an opt-out, in other words, permission is granted unless the parent or guardian specifically opts out. You should also indicate (and follow a practice) of not naming children or minors in any communications media. Be very aware of those children for whom you do not have permission to photograph. Make sure anyone asked to assist in digitally capturing the event is aware of these restrictions. There are many legitimate reasons for families to deny permission which might include having a child who is in foster care, being involved in a custody battle or situation of domestic abuse, or being a high profile individual with increased privacy concerns. Whatever the reason, make sure to honor and respect the family’s wishes.
- Make sure to obtain an individual photo releases for any high profile public figure who is involved in your congregation either as a guest or member, and make sure to define the ways in which that image might be used. Can it be used only in connection with events at which the person is present or endorsing, or can the image be used by the church without restriction?
- Consider who has access to digital images and files, and where these images and files will reside. Remember - permission is granted to your church to photograph, record, and utilize images. If you enlist other parishioners to help photograph or record an event, you need to make sure all images are transferred from their personal devices to church devices and storage. Also, those individuals have not been given permission to share church-owned images on their personal social media accounts. Be very clear with your volunteers about these and other protocols.
As you experiment with ways to tell your story in the digital space, it’s important that you do so in ways that are both respectful and legal. While these are tips and suggestions to get you started, to make sure your digital image protocol follows best practices, you must review it with legal counsel. They will be able to provide you with or approve the specific language you need to use for both crowd and individual photo releases, and will advise you on an usage restrictions. Your denomination’s adjudicatory body or church insurance company may also be a source of specific language, direction, and guidance.So if the question is: Do I need photo releases, the answer is: sometimes yes, sometimes no, and always maybe so.
- Lisa Brown, Director of Digital Ministry
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Our goal at Membership Vision is to help churches and other faith communities to tell their stories in the digital space. Each church, irrespective of size, has a living and active story to tell, and technology provides an opportunity to share that story in a way that is welcoming and engaging. We ease the burden of keeping communications current, by leveraging content, and harnessing the many ways that members of our communities connect with each other, both inside and outside of the church walls. We aim to remove technological hurdles and allow churches to communicate online in an effective and sustainable way. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (805) 626-0143 to talk about the ways we can help your church build a digital presence.