You don’t need permission to run photos in your web news publication

Do you need permission to run photographs in your print news publication? No? Then you don’t need it for online pictures either. Student journalists have every right to publish online photos they would otherwise use in their print publications. The fact that those pictures can be seen by a larger, potentially worldwide group is not an issue.

And actually, an administrator’s attempt to prohibit those photos from being posted may in itself be a breach of First Amendment rights to free speech and free press.
An administrator’s limitation of those postings – say, requiring that names be truncated or eliminated or that captions be removed – may, in fact, open up the publication, and the school, to legal issues regarding invasion of privacy and libel.

The law governing photo use is different in a few areas. First, as with the print publication, student pictures used in advertisements to endorse that advertiser’s service or product must have written permission on file. If a student’s picture gets used in that context without permission, then it’s an invasion of privacy (potentially misappropriation – see sidebar in this chapter). But the same release form used for your print ads is the same one used for your Web page.

Second, the law restricting use of pictures online is different for a school’s official Web site or a teacher’s site within that official school site. But the difference stems from the fact that those sites are not news-based, they are corporate-based. As such, use of a student’s photo on those sites is implied endorsement of that site and what it supports (in this case, the school system or a teacher’s practice). As with pictures in advertisements, pictures used in those contexts must have written permission from both the students and their parents. But a publication Web site is news-based. The pictures posted on a publication’s Web site, therefore, are used to illustrate news stories that affect the school’s readership. They are not used to endorse any specific school policy or practice. It’s the basic difference between public relations (PR) and news. In the case of PR, the ultimate goal is to promote and protect the image of an organization. With news, the ultimate goals are to inform, educate and entertain the intended audience with no regard for specific promotion.

Aaron Manfull

Aaron is in his 26th year of advising student media. He is currently the Director of Student Media at Francis Howell North High School in St. Charles, Missouri. He is the Journalism Education Association Digital Media Chair and co-Director of Media Now. He is the 2023 JEA Teacher Inspiration Award Winner and is a former Dow Jones News Fund National Journalism Teacher of the Year. He is one of the authors of the textbook "Student Journalism and Media Literacy." You can find him on X and Instagram @manfull. He's a proud father. A transplanted Iowan. And an avid Hawkeye Fan.

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