Sep 22, 2007

Picture Imperfect

Long one, and definitely not intended to be funny. Hopefully will make you ponder, but if it doesn't, you would have wasted some 15 minutes of your time.

I am amazed by the advances in digital technology. Gone are the days when you bought a film roll, loaded it on your camera and carefully clicked, keeping in mind that after 36 photos, you will have to change the roll, careful not to expose it etc etc. Too cumbersome…
Now, you have the digital revolution… click away 1000s of pics, keep the good ones, edit the bad ones and delete the positively ugly ones. What’s more, you can store your whole wedding/child’s birthday/Swiss vacation etc on a device no larger than (as a techie-challenged uncle put it) a ‘nail cutter’. Even impressive, you can upload these pics on a web page and share it with friends who are on the other side of the globe. How very convenient!

Now, while I love the way technology has made life easy, I (being the eternal cynic) want to raise a few issues to ponder about.

Number 1: If you click my pic, with my consent, who owns the ‘right’ to those pics? Is it you, as the person who clicked the photo (with your camera, your skills etc), or is it me as the ‘subject’ of the photo?

Now, before you wonder what kind of crap issue am I raking up, let me give you some situations.
Scenario 1: You invite me to your wedding/party. I agree to come. I know you will be clicking pics of me (though I may not be photogenic, you just want a reminder of the good times we had together… or you just want to prove that I attended your wedding after all, and hogged like the glutton I am). I agree to pose for your sake. (ok, some people pose because they like to be clicked at… but then, it doesn’t matter for the sake of this discussion).
Now, after the ceremony, you decide to put up the collection of pics on some web page (picassa etc) and send a link to people you know (basically, people who you know want to share your happiness, but could not make it to the ceremony etc).
Now, suppose, just for the sake of academic discussion, that I don’t want my pic on the Net. I don’t have a valid reason for it, just one of my strange whims. Can I object to your uploading my pics?

Scenario 1.1: Now, imagine the same scenario, except that instead of me, you have invited the real SRK. (the only minor difference is that he is some 100 crores richer, owns a bungalow in Bandra, has half the nation’s girls drooling and has a six pack, but still…). He also comes to your wedding and poses for your pics. And you upload it on the web. Can he object?

Scenario 2: Now, the reverse. I invite you to my wedding. (before you start starving yourself to hog at my expense, let me clarify it is some 5 years away, but this is an academic discussion). You come with a camera and click my pics, with my oh-so-beautiful wife (mom, pls note the word 'beautiful'). I happily pose for your pics, since you happen to be my close friend. Now, if you decide to upload the pics (with the caption “my best friend’s wedding. Just to make it senti), can I object?
What happens if I happen to be a celebrity? Does it make my case for objection any stronger? How come AB Jr. made sure those guests at his wedding did not happily post pics of his wedding on the Net? (now, don’t tell me he didn’t allow anybody to click pics… I don’t believe that).

Scenario 3: the case of Paris Hilton/Cameron Diaz and countless actresses/models…
Let me recount two well known incidents. The first was when Cameron Diaz successfully prevented a photographer from selling her nude pics to some tabloid/magazine. She had posed in the buff for the guy, when she was a struggling starlet, and apparently, willing to bare-all to get her break. When she did get her break, and became a big star, she (unfortunately for me) did not want any of ‘those’ pics floating around. And she sued the photographer in court saying he should be barred from selling those pics. Now, I don’t know whether she had signed any agreement as to how the photographer can use those pics or where he can publish them. I mean, if you did not want anybody to see them, why get clicked in the nude in the first place? To show it to a select (lucky?) list of movie producers? I am not passing any moral judgment here. (though I would have loved to see those pics... I mean, after the near bare-all in Charlie's Angels and the Mask, I'm drooling for more)

Scenario 3.1: Next is an even more interesting case of Paris Hilton. The dumb blonde (she proves the stereotype) goes out and has a ‘rocking’ time with her boyfriend. The guy (much wiser) also manages to film their ‘act’. After they break up, he releases the video on the net, and it becomes an instant hit. Suddenly, the dumb blonde wakes up to the fact that it is an invasion of her privacy (forget the fact that it actually revived her sagging career, and that she has given us enough glimpses of her privacy even otherwise), and sues the guy for damages. I think she won, but I am too lazy to research it out. (find out for yourselves, if you are so interested in her). Here, the video was shot without her consent and she could sue. But, what if some other dumb blonde doesn’t mind being filmed in the ‘act’, assuming that her boyfriend wouldn’t do a ‘show and tell’ later, after their inevitable breakup three days later. Can she object?

On the face of it, there are some similarities in the three scenarios. There is a person who clicks the pics (call him A). There is another person who is being clicked (call him B). Now, who owns the rights to these pics? Assume that, like normal people, A and B do not bother to sign a pre-click agreement stating when and where these pics can be used.

Does it matter whether the event is organized by A (and hence B, by being present, gives away his rights to object)? (as in, if B organizes the event, he can debar people from either clicking pics, or allow them to click, but claim to have a right over the pic?).

Who should be liable if the pics are misused? Let’s say A innocently uploads the pics on his website. There is a third person C, who hates B (let her be a lady for this example), and copies that pic and puts it up on a ‘different’ kinda site… with the caption “Hot chick feeling lonely. Please give her company. Call …” or some such crap. I can come up with more suggestive captions, but for once, I refrain. (yeah, I can hear your sigh of relief, but I promise you it is short lived).

Anyways, now, this C cannot be traced, but it can be reasonably proved that the pic was lifted from A’s site. Does this make A guilty in any way? Or does the lack of ‘mens rea’ let him off?
Comments invited…

Disclaimer: I am not a very big fan of photography. I have never understood the compulsive need of people to ‘capture’ every sundry event and stash it away for posterity. But then, that is my personal prejudice, and has hopefully not taken away my right to raise the issue.


  1. mmm... i am not sure wot exactly you wish us to think about here... is it about privacy or copyright? both are like totally different issues... or are they... pretty soon you might actually start suing people who call out to you saying that it is your name and they cannot use it...

    btw... i could not resist this: the real SRK has six packs on the outside, while you got six packs stuffed inside...

  2. See there is a simple solution -
    Worldover if you happen to be one of those page 3 personalities from either Hollywood or Bollywood then the whole of the world is yours. You could choose to publish your picture with consent, yet could reverse your judgement and sue that poor person.

    If you are not, and over and above, not a SRK material (I mean atleast by looks or six pack) - then everybody else have the right to click and shoot your extraordinary image and post it wherever they want. You could do nothing.

    As far as privacy and copyright are concerned, they are good in the books of law, because if you want to apply them in real life, it might create trouble unless u hv the power to manipulate them.

    So, let people click of your six packs - outside or inside..[:)]

  3. @ monk: u r missin the point... this has nuthin to do wid privacy... it's only abt copyright... if u click my pic, who owns tht pic? who shud own the pic?

    @ stam:
    the question tht was raised deals wid what 'shud' be the scene, not wht exists practically...
    i know tht if i'm page 3 material, i can do wht i want and sue whom i want :)

    and as for the six packs, 'inner beauty' is more important than cosmetic ones ;)))

  4. Anonymous6:57 AM