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When Do You Need A Release?

Posted on June 10th, 2010 Written on michael's blog

Do you like this?

Jon Gosselin, reality TV star for 15 minutes a few years ago.. I think.. maybe…

There are now 5.8 billion video cameras in circulation on a planet with a population of 6.8 billion people.

This means that pretty soon the number one human activity is going to be making videos of each other.

(This actually is no bad thing as it seems we will shortly not be able to swim, fish or go to the beach.)

As we start pointing video cameras at each other 24 hours a day and then posting the results on Youtube (where we already upload a mind-boggling 23 hours of video a minute), the issue of ‘privacy’ begins to come into play. That is ‘get that camera out of my face or I will kill you’.

Note: if someone says that, turn off the camera.

Short of that kind of very direct expression of dislike of being filmed, what exactly are your rights as a filmmaker (which would be pretty much everyone).

JD Lasica, who I have been ‘following’ since before there was twitter even, has just published a few very interesting and important pieces on your rights to film in public places.

In the days when there were perhaps a dozen film cameras on the streets of New York in any given afternoon, the ‘rights’ issue was a lot more straightforward.  Now, there are, quite literally, millions, if not billions of video cameras in play every day all over the world. Not everyone wants to be filmed.

So there is a kind of dynamic tension set up between our natural instincts toward personal privacy and our natural instinct to protect our First Amendment rights.

Broadcasters, (if you want to sell your video to broadcasters) are remarkably and understandably conservative. Places like The Discovery Channel or National Geographic go well beyond the technical legal bounds and demand releases from everyone who can be identified. They don’t want any ‘trouble’ – ever.

When I sold my production company VNI to The New York Times and it became NY Times TV, the lawyer from The Times were adamant about ‘First Amendment rights’.  “We’re not going to get releases from anyone” said Floyd Abrams. It was a matter of First Amendment law.  “Fine” said Discovery. “No releases, no payment”.

We got the releases.

Now, when you go out with your video camera, what are your ‘rights’ as a filmmaker?

This has always been a very murky area, and we have always erred on the side of making the stuff you shoot acceptable to anyone who would want to buy it.  But what if you just want to put it up on your own site or Youtube?

According to Mr. Lasica and the lawyers he quotes, you have the right to film anyone in a public place without their permission. By being in a public place (as opposed to a private place, like a restaurant or even a shopping mall), they forgo any claim to a ‘right to privacy’.

Of course, anyone who has traveled in places in the Third World will ultimately encounter people who simply don’t want to be photographed, for fear that the camera ’steals their souls’.

We might laugh at their naivete when faced with new technologies such as photography.  I have seen this myself when photographing in Southern Sudan or the Central Congo.

Perhaps they are not so wrong after all.

With nearly 6 billion video cameras in play daily all over the world, there soon will be little left that is not private or sacred or personal.

And maybe there is something inherently wrong with that

Tags : JD , Lasica