Can media outlets use your web photos without permission?

Can media outlets use your web photos without permission?

An interesting question arises in relation to the local news story of a woman and her baby found shot to death in their home in a Boston suburb, while her British husband, who left the country about the time of the murders, refuses to speak to investigators or even return to the US to bury his family. But my question isn’t really about the case per se, but about the news coverage.

The family had a personal web site full of photos of the parents, Rachel and Neil Entwistle, and their daughter Lillian, who was only about 9 months old. The local media, including the Boston Herald, have been liberally reprinting those photos, up to 4 or 5 per day for the past week. They even have galleries of the photos on their own web sites.

Can they do that?

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  • For personal sites, aimed at family and friends, how difficult would it be to use a password, or simple question like, “What was grandmonther’s nickname?”

  • I think it’s probably quite complicated, and copyrights are probably the least of it.  Photos can be made public—ie fall into the public domain as the result of all kinds of actions.  An example would be the wedding photos of Scott & Laci Peterson, used in a court of law and widely used by the media.  Remember, private photos have implicit copyrights, with respect to duplication, whether posted on a website or not. 

    Should they be respected?  Yes, under normal circumstanes, but what happens under “Scott & Laci”-type conditions?  The pictures get used.  Happens all the time.

  • AB,

    Unfortunately, even a little security might be enough to throw off the least tech savvy. Plus it won’t always be immediate family. I don’t expect Melanie’s family to know my grandmother’s nickname, never mind my college friends.


    Once something becomes an exhibit in a trial, I think different rules apply. It becomes part of the public record and can be used for works relating to that trial. I think.

  • I think so too, Domenico.  That’s all I really meant to convey—things like that can happen.  This one is a double murder too and sometimes the pics appear during the police investigation before the trial.

  • Your reasons for asking this question are the reason I have my site covered by a creative commons license. That way anyone wanting to know what they can and cannot do with anything they find on my site is clearly spelled out.

    In my case the news media would be told twice on the subject of pictures. Once with creative commons, and second if they try to right click and save off the picture. Because when they do it clearly states that the pictures are covered under my copyright.

    With that out of the way, and going on the pretense that the Globe were to use them in a way that I did not allow for, would I have enough money to fight them in court? And if I did, would it be worth it and could I win?

    IMHO, sadly I think we all know the answer to those questions.

  • You don’t need a fancy creative commons license. Copyright law says you don’t have to assert your rights for them to be active. Spelling it out is a convenience and a courtesy.

    Frankly, if the Globe tried, I’d get one of these public interest legal groups to represent me pro bono. This is a murky legal area just begging for a precedent to clear it up.

  • Thru javascript and such you can disable the right mouse button while someone visits a site. (no copy and paste)But you can get around that so many ways that it’s really not worth the effort.

    A friend of mine spent hours writing some script to protect everything on his sit, only to see me break it with the alt-print screen button. wink