Ethics and Laws: Capturing People in Public

During a marketing strategy class that I teach at the university, a discussion arose about whether it’s permissible to post photos of people taken on the street on your business’s social media page. Is that allowed? I couldn’t provide a clear answer immediately because the issue is somewhat complex. So I decided to write an article about this topic.

In the digital age, capturing moments in public spaces is commonplace, particularly with the proliferation of social media and content creation. While documenting surroundings and people within them is often part of content creation, businesses must consider the ethical and legal implications of photographing or filming individuals in public settings. This article provides insights into these considerations, focusing on events reports and social media use for companies.

Understanding Legal Frameworks

Before photographing or filming people in public spaces, it’s crucial to understand the legal landscape. Laws vary by jurisdiction, but many countries, including Curaçao, operate under the principle of “freedom of panorama.” This principle generally allows individuals to capture images or videos of public spaces and the people within them without explicit consent. However, this freedom has limitations, especially when it comes to commercial use.

Respecting Privacy and Consent

Even when the law permits photographing or filming in public spaces, respecting individuals’ privacy is essential. People in public spaces have a reduced expectation of privacy, but they are still entitled to comfort and boundaries. When someone is prominently featured in content, seeking their consent is not only respectful but also ethically sound. In many cases consent can be given by asking the persons in the picture permission to take th shots and explaining how the images or video will be used. When photographing children in public, special care should be taken. Consent from both parents is essential before using the photos for commercial purposes or social media posts.

The circumstances

A common viewpoint is that if an individual is not the main focus in a photo and blends into the crowd, the image can be used freely if taken in a public space. But does this hold true for commercial use, such as featuring on the cover of a company’s annual report? A professional photographer friend indicated that it there are more than 5 persons in the picture, it would be ok to use the picture, as nobody would take center attention. The setting of the photo also plays a crucial role. Whether people are at a large event, a wedding, dining in a restaurant, or in a restroom, the context greatly influences the decision to use the photo.

Press vs Respect

For journalists and press photographers, the right to capture images in public spaces is tied to freedom of the press. However, this right must be balanced with responsibility and respect for subjects. Upholding journalistic integrity involves obtaining contextually relevant images while minimizing potential harm or invasion of privacy. However, when obtaining images for campaign purposes or corporate social media posts, these rules don’t apply.

Cultural Sensitivity and Privacy

Cultural norms and practices vary widely, and respecting privacy in various settings is crucial. This includes public streets, parks, and more intimate indoor locations like restaurants and shops. Individuals’ comfort levels with being photographed can vary greatly. Special care should be taken when capturing images of children, as they require extra protection.

Approaching photography and videography with cultural sensitivity ensures that individuals feel respected and their privacy is upheld. Whether in a bustling marketplace or a quiet café, maintaining ethical integrity in visual content is essential. When it comes to social media for bars, nightclubs, restaurants or coffee shops, capturing images for social media is an essential part of visual communication. The right way of working would be to inform the guests and ask permission before taking shots. People who would have objections can then be asked politely if they want to cooperate they can move out of the picture for a minute.

Laws in Curacao

When companies use public photos on social media platforms, the impact on depicted individuals must be considered. Even if someone is incidentally in the background, their right to privacy should be respected. Companies should strive to obtain consent whenever possible and use discretion when sharing such content. A proactive approach includes informing people in advance about filming and obtaining permissions, especially for events. When it comes to drone shots, more questions often arise. It’s not always clear who is taking the footage and how it will be used. Additionally, it’s important to consider whether the area is private or public property.

Best Practices for Companies

Pre-Event Notifications:
Clearly inform attendees if an event will be photographed or filmed. This can be done through signs or announcements at the entrance of event locations.

Identify Photographers: Have photographers wear identifiable clothing or badges to make their role clear. Hand out business cards with your company’s and the photo studio’s contact information to people in the picture.

Seek Consent:
Obtain explicit consent from individuals who are prominently featured. This can be done through written agreements or verbal permissions. You can read the body language when pointing your camera. People who don’t want to be in the picture will indicate this by turning away from the camera or giving you an irritated look.

React Appropriately:
If someone objects to their image being used after publication, respect their wishes and remove the content promptly. It can be damaging for your brand’s image not te react to objections.

Pay for use:
When creating content for commercials or campaigns, it’s best to hire models from an agency. This ensures that the individuals in the photos have given consent and allows for more coordinated and professional pictures.

Conclusion

Capturing moments in public spaces can enhance marketing and storytelling. However, businesses must navigate the ethical and legal considerations of photographing or filming individuals. By respecting privacy, seeking consent, and understanding cultural and legal contexts, marketers can create compelling content while upholding ethical standards. In Curaçao and beyond, balancing creativity and respect is key to successful and responsible content creation.

About the author
Derek Durgaram is an entrepreneur with a background in business consultancy. He is the brains behind Green Media, a media production company based in Curacao. GreenLine Communication is a spin off of his company, a service that offers insights and project management within the digital media domain.

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