Is Printing All Right’s Reserved Facebook Photos Legal?

Google Watching: Unauthorized Photograph Use for Discipline
A Thomas Hawk reader has a post up regarding photos on Facebook leading to school discipline for kids drinking in photos.

His question basically is would it be fair use for parents to print out photos from Facebook and give them to school officials violating a photographer’s copyright?

Irrespective of the fact that high school kids shouldn’t be drinking and maybe that’s worse than copyright violations, technically would a copyright be violated in a case such as this?

Certainly anyone could feel free to look at these photos on the web. But if say a kid took them down could physical copies then be legally used?

Here’s his take:

“So, I am a high school student with a Facebook. Like most students, my friends attend parties and (sometimes) take pictures. These photos are often posted on Facebook or MySpace and may contain actions which would violate the Athletic/Activity Code which many students sign.

Recently, school officials obtained copies (I’m told from a parent, but that is unconfirmed) and began to discipline students for what they had done in the photos (underage alcohol issues).

Now, my question is, did the school infringe on the copyright of the photographers. They have obviously made unauthorized copies of the photos by printing them and I believe they have obtained up to 200 pictures. I would hardly suppose this is a fair use as it seems to have a malicious “nature” and the amount is “substantial.”

Of course if it were one of my four kids drinking and I saw the photo (thank goodness I still have a few years yet before I’ll be needing to deal with this one) I think copyright would be the least of my concerns, but it does raise an interesting question with regards to image copyright.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    On a larger, yet related question, I’ve always wondered as to the legality of minors entering into terms-of-service agreements with various web services.

    How far can a TOS be enforced if the minor person subjected might be in a state that prohibits such agreements without a parent or guardians explicit approval?

  2. bilg says:

    Plenty of parallels to TOS enforcement exist. For example, if a minor signs a contract to buy a car without parental approval, can it be enforced? I’ve no idea what the law says, but I’m sure it says something.

    As for the kid’s pics, wouldn’t an important distinction be if his parents, or someone else’s parents, confiscated the photos?

    Also, are we sure the kid actually holds the copyright? I’m not so sure that the copyright on photos taken by a minor resident in his parent’s house, with equipment paid for by his parents, and stored on parental property, would not belog to the parents in the first place.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Nearly all creative endeavors (photography included) gives an automatic copyright to the creator as soon as the work is fixed in a tangible medium. I can borrow a pen and paper and write the next great American novel and the (c) belongs to me.

  4. Mike says:

    I have two comments.

    First, I question the ability to punish someone from photos alone. I’m sure there is more to the story, but a teenager holding a beer can does not proove drinking. If someone corroberates that event, maybe. A video could show the actual event of drinking (although you’d of course not be able to *test* the substance ingested).

    Second, the real issue is about fair use. For fair use, you have to look at each individual party and what they stand to gain/lose/etc from the actions. If, for example, pictures were selectively (or otherwise) chosen by a parent for the purpose of benefitting their child – say the son is a 2nd string QB and the starting QB is pictured drinking – then you might argue this is not fair use. But assume that a parent is just picking out every photo they find and submitting it to the school – where is the violation? There is no gain, right? They aren’t selling the pictures, or using them in advertising for example.

    Again, we always return to the definition of fair use. By its very definition, it is quite open to interpretation. In this case, the action is hardly transformative, the work has been published, the substantiality of the product taken could be deemed as limited (a few of tens of thousands of pictures on myspace) or the “heart” of the matter (ie key pictures only). But most likely here the relevant factor is the “effect of use on the potential market.” As a jurist it would likely be difficult to convince me that the copyright holder (picture taker) was developing or maintaining a “market” and even if so the limited use of such pictures for this stated purpose would not likely infringe.

    None of this addresses, unfortunately, the idiot(s) who posted these pictures in a public place and same idiot(s) caught doing said deed. Hey, kids, if you’re gonna do something stupid, don’t let your friends take pictures of said act and put it online!