Legal Issues of Photographing School Events
Today everyone has the ability to take a photo anywhere, of anyone, at anytime.
With this insurgence of cameras at-the-ready, a lot of uncertainty and wariness has arisen regarding what is and is not allowed. This uncertainty may not apply to you since you have likely spent time researching the legal parameters of what a professional photographer can do, but may apply to your subjects and clients. This is likely especially true when photographing minors as parents are taking a stronger hold on protecting their children in a high-tech society.
One way to protect yourself from what others may believe is “the law” is to have a solid contract in place. Your contract should include a model release clause or you should have a separate model release signed as well. Although these documents may not be required in every instance, they can still protect you from unnecessary legal trouble.
Your General Contract
A contract in its most basic form is a legally binding document, signed by you and your client, which states the consideration being exchanged (i.e., what services you are providing and what your client is providing you in exchange). For an in-depth look at what else should be in your contract check out this article.
What we are going to focus on here is what you need to be aware of should when photographing minors and photographing on school grounds, including what your contract and/or model release should look like.
Special Considerations for Minors
In general, if a minor is in public than anyone can photograph the minor and use the image for any editorial use (e.g., a purpose that doesn’t directly profit you). If the image is going to be used for a commercial purpose (e.g., for your profit) then you have to have a model release signed. A model release can be a subsection of your general contract or it’s own legal document. It gives permission from the subject, or the guardian of the subject in the case of a minor, to be photographed and what future use rights are allowable by both parties. In other words, whether you can use it on your website, whether they can freely print images, etc.
While from the above it seems that you should be able to photograph freely for editorial use, some states are proposing laws that require parental consent to photograph minors at any time or place. For example, Georgia passed a law making it illegal for anyone to photograph a minor other than the minor’s parent. This sweeping language brought immediate criticism and there was question regarding its constitutionality. The following year the language was revised, only disallowing photography of a minor by a sexual offender. While Georgia’s new law may not require the average photographer to get parental permission to photograph a minor, Georgia is not the only state looking for new and creative ways to protect minors from unwanted photography.
Special Considerations for Schools
In addition to state laws, photographing minors may be further restricted at the local government level and even by the school district. School districts often have restrictions in place requiring parental consent for photographing a minor on school grounds. There may be exceptions for things such as extracurricular activities or the school may pre-emptively have parents sign media releases at the start of the school year, so you need to know the policy of the school grounds that you will be working on.
In addition to requiring parental consent, some schools will also have specific requirements for you to complete before setting foot on school grounds. For example, you may have to submit fingerprints, complete a background check, check in at the front office, wear a visitor badge, etc.
See also this Florida Statute Example
Your Contract and Photographing Minors on School Grounds
When taking any photographs for your business it is smart to protect yourself by getting a contract signed, whether required by law to do so or not. Any photographs you plan to take on school grounds, of minors or not, that will be used for a commercial purpose will require a release. Generally, since schools have strict photography policies, a contract will also be required. In this instance, you can use your general contract, but may need to modify it to meet the school’s policy.
As for the release, there are a couple scenarios that may play out:
- The school may have pre-emptively had parents sign minor model releases/media releases. In this case you should review their release to ensure it can be used by you, and your contract should state that those model releases apply to your services.
- You can have a minor model release signed by each minor’s parents. The model release section will include language that the guardian gives permission for the specific minor to be photographed and gives permission for future uses of the photograph.
- You can have every minor’s guardian sign a general contract with a modified minor model release that reflects the information in the note above.
Although in some cases you may feel that a contract and release are overkill, but it is better safe than sorry!