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Removed 1100 photos from Flickr

After some heavy discussions with Kore and others I researched about German law in respect to individual rights on photos yesterday. Thanks to Arne, who gave me a good starting point (German) for my research. In the end, Kore was mostly right with his interpretation, what made me remove about 1100 photos from my Flickr gallery. All of those showing people dedicatedly where I do not feel to have the explicit permission to publish their pictures. I'll try to explain the reasons, my personal issues and possibly solutions in this article.

Disclaimer: No, I'm not a lawyer, so the following summary might a) be incorrect legal terminology and b) misinterpreted.

German law first of all gives every person the right to decide if a picture (s)he is shown on might be published or not. Nobody may publish a photo (or a drawing) of another person without her/his explicit permission. This restriction of artists is only loosen in some cases, where the creator of a picture might publish it without explicit permission. Still the shown person can investigate under such circumstances. These cases are basically (§ 23 KUG):

  • If the person shown is part of contemporary history.

  • If he/she is only shown as an attachment beside the main aspect of the picture (landscape, architecture, ...).

  • If the photo was taken on an assemblage and does not show the person explicitly.

  • If the picture is of higher artistic nature and it was not made as an remittance work.

It think the right of people, shown on a picture, to decide themselves if their pictures may be published or not, is a very good thing. Some people don't want to be published anywhere, others just take care that no offending pictures are published. However, I'm quite sad about my own decision to remove such a large amount of nice photos from my Flickr pages. I only left pictures online where either no person is visible, where the visible person gave me their explicit permission to publish pictures, where the main subject of a picture is landscape or architecture or where a larger crowd of people is shown on a public event.

I'm not quite sure about the legal situation for those still public pictures in the end. I personally consider an open source conference an assemblage and therefore the pictures of conference crowds are still public. However, if anyone feels offended by being visible on such a picture, please let me know and I will remove it. In contrast, I'm not sure if people that are celebrities in the open source / PHP scene are not part of the contemporary history. Can an auditorium full of people be considered an assemblage? Is an open source (un)conference a public event? Isn't Rasmus Lerdorf part of the contemporary history? Wouldn't Linus Torwalds be? If they are, aren't Marcus Börger and Kore Nordmann, too?

I'm really sad to feel the need to take a lot of nice conference memories offline. A few people hacking in a corner on IPC spring in Amsterdam, a (possibly by now famous) speaker giving his first talk, the LAMP area on earlier days Linuxtag and many more are no more visible to any of you anymore. However, I do not want to offend anyone or even get into legal issues. Therefore I'd beg all of you that have ever seen me with a camera, please send me a short email and grant me the permission to publish the photos again. You all know that I would not publish offending pictures and for you and other attendees, a good amount of public memories are missing.

A short email saying something like "feel free to publish pictures of my person that you have taken and will on conferences and other events" should work fine to give me a basic permission. You still have the choice to make me unpublish certain pictures or to revoke this right again anytime. Please make sure you sign your email in some way to avoid faked permissions. Thanks in advance!

I would be quite curious what people think about all this? Are you happy that I removed these photos? Do you think it was unnecessary? Do you think all other photos showing people must be unpublished, too? Would you mind your photos being online? Are you a lawyer and can enlighten me about the details in this direction? How do you handle this issue when taking photos (especially at conferences)?

I also thought about possibilities to avoid such legal quandaries in future. One possibility IMO would be, to ask people for a permission while they register for a conference. I think most people don't have any issues with having photos published they can be seen on, as long as they are not obviously offending (like someone lying drunk on the sidewalk or the late night striptease in the hotel bar). For events like the recent PHP Unconference this could be a solution in my opinion. Still you have the problem here that you don't know all people in person and might not be able to decide if someone is on a picture who rejected his permission.

One of Kores arguments were that I don't have the permission to publish pictures while a professional journalist has it (in some way). He stated that you can usually identify a journalist as such and people know that if they are photographed by such a person, their photo might be published. For me, as only someone who runs around on geek events with a large DSLR, people only asume that I will keep the photos only for me in private. I might print some shirts for the next conferences that state "Attention: I will publish my photos on the internet" and make sure that people notice I'm taking a photo of them. Maybe that would resolve the issue? At least that saves me for asking all 200 people for their permission. On the other hand, they could still refuse to have seen my shirt in front of court. However, they could also doubt that I asked them in person unless I have witness. So, this does not make much difference.

Comments and discussion highly appreciated.

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