By Dean Schermerhorn
While the ethics questions involving copyright infringement might be familiar to all of us, the world of social media has presented new ethics considerations.
One ethics question arises when someone uses another person’s photo without authorization, acknowledgement or payment. It is not so well known that a photographer owns the rights to photos regardless of having registered a copyright. Further complicating the use of photography is the reality that nearly everyone with a smart phone can publish and share photographs.
One case of the ethics involved with photography, related at this link, involved a professional photographer who has been posting his photos on a media company’s website and their Facebook page. His photo subject is downhill skateboarding. He does not charge skateboarders who use his photos. He does, however, charge for-profit companies who use his photos, as they can make money off of them.
One skateboard manufacturing company downloaded one of his photos and posted it to its Instagram account. They did so without asking permission from the photographer and without offering to pay him. When he asked for payment, the company responded that they do not pay for Instagram sharing. In his post recounting this incident, the photographer goes on to reply to the company’s arguments for not paying him.
A photographer owns the copyrighted photo as soon as the photo is taken. A photographer can register the photo officially with the United States Copyright Office, providing additional legal protection for the photographer. The question of sharing has not been tested legally, and yet sharing without first obtaining the creator’s permission appears clearly to violate ethical standards.
- Promoting the free flow of information calls for preserving the integrity of the process of communication and for being honest and accurate in all communications.
- Engaging in competition requires the preservation of intellectual property rights in the marketplace.
- Disclosure of information requires communicators to be honest and accurate in all communications and to avoid deceptive practices.
- Finally, preventing conflicts of interest calls for avoiding actions and circumstances that may appear to compromise good business judgment or create a conflict between personal and professional interests.
Professional ethics for photographers are spelled out on the website of the American Society of Media Photographers.
If you have questions or comments concerning ethics in public relations, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, please plan to attend the PRSA Sierra Ethics Month lunch meeting on Thursday, September 14, 11:30 a.m., at the Atlantis Casino Resort Spa in Reno. You will have the opportunity to participate in an interactive ethics workshop by choosing a topic that interests you.
Dean Schermerhorn, APR, MA, is a retired communicator and vice president of ethics for the PRSA Sierra Nevada chapter. He owned Concise Communications, whose services included strategic communication, Web content and articles for periodicals.