The idea of content being king on the Internet is not a new one. If some of that content consists of photos, there are some rules that need to be followed.
One of my blog readers took me to task over a photo I took of "The Bean" in Chicago. The bean-shaped metal sculpture — its real title is "Cloud Gate" — is a public work of art, located in a public park and it is photographed so many times a day that I am surprised it has not faded. People come from all over the world to worship the bean.
The reader commented that I had no right to post a photo of someone else’s work of art on my blog. I am not a lawyer and have read several articles on the subject and they don’t seem to be in agreement, at least where The Bean is concerned. Articles about it can be found all over the Internet, dating back to when the sculpture was first placed in Millennium Park.
There have been incidents over The Bean and photographers who take photos of it. The legalities of selling Bean photos are murky, but photographers are still shooting it and selling photos of it. It is clear that taking photos of it and posting them on the Internet is legal.
There are some rules about taking photographs and publishing them on the Internet. For one thing, not all photos are public domain. It is a common practice for bloggers to use Google to search for images and then to use the image in a blog post.
That is wrong unless the image is public domain or the owner of the image has agreed to let you use it. People don’t seem to have any qualms about using my photos.
I recently wrote a post about my two most stolen photos. They seem to show up everywhere. The city of St. Paul would like to use one of them. I don’t have a problem with it, but that will make the photo public domain and it is unclear what rights I will retain, if any.
People see the photos on my blogs and ask all sorts of questions. I am not a lawyer or an expert, but I have done my homework. Some of the photos are of private residences and others are pictures of public buildings, public places and people in public places. There are photos of local businesses inside and out.
Permission is needed to photograph the inside of a business — when I ask the answer is "no" about half of the time. …CONTINUED
I don’t need permission to photograph the business from public property. I don’t need a homeowner’s permission to photograph a home from a public street, for example, and I don’t need permission from people who wander into my photos in public places and end up being a part of the photo, even if those persons are children.
If I stood on a public street and photographed a home and the photo captured a person inside taking a shower, it would be wrong to publish that photo. The person in the house was not in a public place and had a reasonable expectation of privacy, even though he or she did leave the shade open.
Last winter an overzealous security guard tried to confiscate my camera. I took a photo of a refinery all lit up at night from across the street. He cited national security. He gave up on trying to take the camera from me but insisted that I delete all of the photos I took of the refinery.
I deleted the photo I took on private property but refused to delete any of the photos that I took from the street. If I had not gone into the parking lot in the first place the guard would not have been able to detain me. He called his supervisor while I was calling my lawyer. They let me go with my camera, with one photo deleted.
It isn’t my intent to harm or embarrass anyone and I am sensitive to that. Other people have rights, too, and I don’t want to step on them as I assert my own rights. I have been thrown out of a few places because of my camera — some nice places and some not-so-nice places. I try not to cause trouble, but I can be very assertive when I am challenged for taking a photo of public art, public places or from public places.
The people who use my photos without my permission receive a cease-and-desist letter from me. I am generous with the photos, and they can be found on nonprofit and government Web sites and on a local radio station’s blog. When it comes to other real estate agents taking them and using them for commercial purposes, I am relentless.
Teresa Boardman is a broker in St. Paul, Minn., and founder of the St. Paul Real Estate blog.
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