Q&A – When Your Photos Are Evidence

As a result of the recent unfortunate incident at the Reno Air Races, aviation photographers are wondering what are the laws and ethics for supplying images to the NTSB or other investigative body.  Larry Grace, Chairman of the International Society for Aviation Photography, recently contacted me to discuss the issues.  Our Q & A  is included below.  You may join ISAP’s discussion on this and other issues on its Facebook page.

Q.  What effect does turning copies of images to authorities have on ownership management and copyright of images?

A.  Transfer of copyright must be done in writing; therefore, providing a copy only of your image to the NTSB or other government entity does not give the government the copyright to the photos.  However, it’s best to provide the specifics of a license to the NTSB in writing and in the metadata of the image (such as “this image is provided to the NTSB for research and examination purposes only – all other rights, including the right of display, distribution, and reproduction, are reserved”), along with your copyright notice and contact information.

Q.  Can you be compelled to provide images?

A.  Only by a subpoena or search warrant.

Q.  Can you be legally detained or sequestered as a witness to an event?

A.  You may be questioned but not detained or sequestered without cause (such as for suspicion of committing a crime).

Q.  Would we as photographers advocate providing images to assist investigation?

A.  That’s a personal decision.

Q.  Does giving images to an investigative agency curtail any other use?

A.  No.  See the discussion above about giving a specific license for the government’s use and restricting all other rights to your photos.  Of course, it’s best to register the copyrights to your photos asap!

Q.  By providing copies of your images to NTSB /FAA or event organizer, can you as a photographer request that your images not be release to media outlet without media organization contacting you for permission to publish.

A.  Yes, see above.

To have a better understanding of your rights, review http://www.aclu.org/free-speech/know-your-rights-photographers and http://www.krages.com/phoright.htm

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