privacy.jpgJust how much privacy and other rights should people enjoy in a world where everyone might create something?

Whether it’s a FlickR photo or an 800-page biography, we need a rational balance. And writers of DIY books should pay special attention. I myself had to consider the complexities when I was putting out one of my Kindle titles. Ahead I’ll show you how I did so.

But firstly, Exhibit A: A Toronto Star editor was stopped as a public skating rink and told he was not allowed to photograph his children. From the story:

“Matthew Cutler, a public relations manager for Parks, Forestry and Recreation, says staff are taught to use their discretion with members of the public photographing themselves or family members.

“I think parents should be able to enjoy taking photos of their kids in our facilities,” he said in an interview but added that “we have to be conscious of other people’s privacy rights.

“Many parents don’t want their kids’ photos being shared on social media, even if they are in the background of somebody else’s photo.”

I recall a similar case study from my journalism school days, and what we were told then—and what the Star editor tried to point out to the park employee—was that privacy rights in photographs and news reporting only kick in if you’re somewhere where one can reasonably expect privacy. If you install a camera in the president’s car to listen to his conversations, that’s wrong. But if he is eating in a public restaurant and you are sitting in the table next to his, you can report on anything he says.

Exhibit B: A story, via The Digital Reader, on the thorny issue of who owns the copyright for a photograph of a physical object. From the story:

“To clarify, under UK copyright law, the photo of a copyrighted object is itself copyrighted, and whoever owns the copyright on the object also owns the copyright on the visual ‘reproduction”‘of that object. So if you bought a designer chair, and wanted to publish a photo of said chair, you would have to pay a designer a fee for the ‘reproduction’ of the chair.”

In a world where everyone is potentially a creator, I think this issue is going to become ever more tangled up. In my own case, I was writing about colouring books. I did mention some of the popular ones by name in the context of a recommendations section, but I did not screen cap or photograph any of their copyrighted illustrations. But what about the chapter on choosing your materials? I understand that I cannot grab a product shot off of, say, the Crayola website. They own their own pictures. But what if I myself own a Crayola marker, and I want to photograph it to illustrate the different marker types available? Do I have to get permission from Crayola because it is their marker?

And what about the work of the fine folks at No Starch Press, about whom we have written about before? I remember publisher Bill Pollock specifically telling me they are trying to get away from instructional books about Lego. Their Lego series is now pretty much straight-up non-fiction, which happens to be illustrated with Lego-created dioramas. How do the permissions for that work? If I wanted to write a book on, say, Canadian history, and illustrate it with Lego models, should I need approval from the Lego corporation?

What I wound up doing in my own case was DIYing things and relying on my common sense. I did photograph the markers, but I composed the shots so you couldn’t see a logo on them. I don’t think the Crayola people will be displeased with me in any case because my comments about their products were complementary. And I suspect there are several types of fair use that my mentions of them would be covered under (for instance, you are allowed to publish critique and review without needing consents of permissions). But it does seem like, in a world where everyone is potentially a creator, common sense does need to apply. If I wanted to write a book about skating, for example—I should be able to photograph my own family doing it at a public rink.

Photo credit: Here.

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"I’m a journalist, a teacher and an e-book fiend. I work as a French teacher at a K-3 private school. I use drama, music, puppets, props and all manner of tech in my job, and I love it. I enjoy moving between all the classes and having a relationship with each child in the school. Kids are hilarious, and I enjoy watching them grow and learn. My current device of choice for reading is my Amazon Kindle Touch, but I have owned or used devices by Sony, Kobo, Aluratek and others. I also read on my tablet devices using the Kindle app, and I enjoy synching between them, so that I’m always up to date no matter where I am or what I have with me."


  1. In the United States harassment over photography has long been the norm for railfans and urban explorers. My rule of thumb if anyone asks me to not take pictures…is to take their picture. If they threaten to call the police start shooting video. In most cases you are in firm legal footing when shooting from a public place and I have even won civil awards attesting to that fact.

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