As a community we may not always agree, but we at least all share the sentiment that kids are adorable. Am I right? It’s no wonder that churches—especially after an epic children’s camp—regularly ponder the same question: is it OK to use a photo of a cute kid on the church’s website?
The rules surrounding this hot topic are based on a complex overlay of constitutional rights of free speech and independent press as well as the fundamental right of privacy. Navigating these principles can be challenging. Not only is there gray area within the legal framework, but the laws vary state to state and are rapidly changing to protect against cyber predators. But let’s jump into the murkiness and distill a few core guidelines.
If a child is recognizable in a photo or a video, parental consent typically must be given before the content can be published or broadcast. The only exception is when the image the child appears in can be considered news. This is how news media can publish or broadcast photos or video without always obtaining signed releases from the people appearing in the content.
For example, if you take a photo of a child performing a heart-warming skit on a church-sponsored mission trip, you can likely use that photo in a church’s digital newsletter along with a story about the event. But, if you put that same image on the home page of your church’s website or social media page, that likely would qualify as a commercial use. So, if a church publishes a photo of a child on its Facebook page without obtaining written permission from a parent/guardian, it is opening itself up to an invasion of privacy claim from the parents and other potential liability.
While you might correctly assume your faithful membership wouldn’t drag your organization into court over such claim, it’s best to take a the more cautions approach in a world with new and dangerous cyber threats to our children’s safety. So, practically speaking, should a church just stick to stock photos when using images of children? Not if these guidelines are followed:
When taking photos or video of children at church or a public church-sponsored event, get written permission from a parent/guardian before taking them. Ideally, a church should obtain these executed general media releases annually. A church should also include such a release as part of guest registration.
When using recognizable images of a children to promote the church, seek written permission from the parent/guardian. Explain that the child is being photographed or recorded to promote the church on the web. If the parent/guardian objects, don’t use the child’s image.
To cut down on the number of releases needed for a particular shot, consider utilizing lenses that adequately blur children in the background of a photo or video.
Don’t include any information (name, address, phone, email, etc.) that may identify the child.
Avoid using the name of the child in the file name.
Never publish any photo or video that presents the child in a false light.
Whenever possible, consider placing the images behind a members-only password protected area on the church’s website or social network.
Have a plan in place to remove any image of a child when asked.
So, what’s the bottom line? Images are a compelling way to tell your church’s story and connect with your community. If you want to publish a picture of the kid that gave Natalie Grant a run for her money last Sunday—or any other photos or video with recognizable children— it’s wise to get signed parental permission first.
The law surrounding children’s privacy is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact an attorney.