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Online Photos: Taken and Posted Without Your Permission

Let's be honest: even photos taken with your consent can cause stress when they show up online. But what if someone snapped a picture with you in the background, or without asking your permission first? It might leave you asking, “Do I have the right to tell them to take this down?"

Whether it's a shot that shows you letting loose at a bar, a photo with a bad review of you at work, or a family gathering with pictures of your minor children, photos taken and posted without your permission can be worrying. You may want to have these pictures taken down right away. Perhaps you think your only option is to threaten the original poster with a lawsuit.

The actions you can take depend on many factors. The article below outlines some top aspects to consider and can help guide you toward an attorney if you need one.

Knowing If You Will or Won't Have a Case

While photos on Facebook or other social media sites may be uncomfortable and frustrating, the poster may be protected from legal action to remove them. The First Amendment protects their right to share images, but the Supreme Court has said that freedom of speech doesn't always provide protection. This may apply if the content:

  • Is posted for a commercial purpose or has commercial value,
  • Is protected by intellectual property laws,
  • Is defamatory or violative of someone's publicity rights, or
  • Is subject to a reasonable expectation of privacy.

The Copyright Act of 1976, which is the main copyright law in the United States, protects copyright owners. Unless the content is in the public domain, someone who posts it without permission and/or attribution may be liable for copyright infringement.

People also get in trouble for posting illegal pornography, including revenge porn. Even if civil recourse doesn't exist for the photo's subject, law enforcement officials will not tolerate criminal content. That means if you've been harmed by the posted content but are unable to sue privately, government prosecutors can still press charges under criminal state and federal laws.

A Friend or Family Member Posted Your Photo

If a friend or family member took the photo, your best course of action might be to politely ask them to take it down. Often, these images are taken on someone's private property (such as at their house) where they have the right to take images of you.

By agreeing to be on their property, you give them some rights to your presence. Also, suing them would likely result in awarded damages so small that they may not cover the attorney fees needed to handle the case.

A Stranger Posted Your Photo

This can get complicated. If a stranger takes photos on public property, such as at a park or on a city street, you are giving your consent by being in a public area. If someone you do not know takes pictures of you on private property, you may have some rights according to the rules of the private property.

What if a stranger — such as a privately hired surveillance person or a nosy neighbor — takes pictures of you while you are on your own property? You may want to research invasion of privacy laws in your state. However, it is legal to take pictures of your house — such as pictures of your Christmas lights — if you are not in the photo or if the photo was shot from a public place.

An Event Venue or Bar Posted Your Photo

If the image was taken at an event, concert, restaurant, or bar, then the rules of the event venue or location may apply. Often these events have photo policies in place, such as a bar crawl warning participants that they will have photographers taking event shots throughout the night.

Sometimes, contacting management to take event images off their social media or website may be enough. If the image is being used to make money, such as on a poster or event invite, then you may have some legal recourse.

Advertisements Are Using Your Photo

If you suddenly spot your photos on an ad campaign, print ad, or any online ads, then you should take legal action. You have rights regarding the “commercial use" of your image if a person or business is making money from your image or right of publicity. In some states, you may be able to sue for appropriation of your name and likeness.

Negative Comments or Content With Your Photo

There is a chance your image could be used to make fun of you, show you in a bad light on purpose, or be paired with cruel comments. You can investigate your state's laws on bullyingdefamation, or false light to learn more.

Take Action If You Feel Wronged by a Photo

If you feel strongly that an image of you or how you have been depicted in the public eye is inappropriate, you may have a case. Speaking with an attorney through an initial consultation is the best place to start. They will listen carefully to the details of the situation and, after a review of the case, can advise you on the likely outcome.

The content of the images has an impact on what type of attorney can best help you. If any of the following situations apply, these links can help you find the right attorney:

  • Images involving a business or advertisements may require legal advice from an intellectual property and copyright attorney.
  • Photos taken illegally, on private property, or with defamatory intent may require a personal injury attorney.
  • Images with minors or illegal pornographic content may require the government's help. Contact your local law enforcement.

Our directory of qualified experts contains contact information to help you form an attorney-client relationship with a legal professional. They'll be able to provide advice on your legal issues and help you resolve your claim.

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