I am a professional photographer for outdoor sports. I am self-publishing a photo/story book of my travels over the years with specific people/athletes. I am using photos that I own the rights to. Do I need permission or approval from the different people in some of my photos?
2 Answers from Attorneys
Any attorney will say more information is needed. When you say "that I own rights to," what do you mean? Have releases been signed? A review of all facts and a personal consultation is needed. Consult with an attorney in your area for specifics.
Kevin B. Murphy, B.S., M.B.A., J.D. - Mr. Franchise
There are two sets of rights, and I think you appreciate this from your question.
A. Copyright. This is an artistic right belonging to the photographer, based on the creation of a copyrightable work via the camera. Pretty clearly, you own this right -- you took the photographs, made the artistic decisions about setting and timing and context etc.
B. Right of publicity or privacy of the photographic subject. Clearly this only comes into play when you photograph a person: if you photograph a scene of nature or of animals, this right does not arise. But people have a right of publicity, to prevent in some cases the use of their images to be used, without their consent, in a commercial endeavor.
In some cases your images may run afoul of this second right. In other cases, they will not. For instance, if you have a photo of Joe Namath delivering a touchdown pass in a Super Bowl, that was a very public event and photos are widespread. There is reason to hold that Namath had, by his public appearance and the wide sports coverage, waived any right to publicity with regard to that event. Contrast that with a photo of him in the locker room, half-undressed. He may not have consented to that and it may be unique. So a different standard would apply.
You can reduce your risk by wise usage of the photos. Email me if you want to follow up with more specific advise, but you do have some risk. While you almost certainly cannot eliminate that entirely, you may be able to minimize it.