Q: Does our ministry need permission to use pictures of people in our publications and on our websites?

A: If the photograph was taken at a public event, and not of a guest speaker or well-known person, permission is not necessarily needed.

The law of privacy is generally concerned with protecting a person’s “reasonable expectation of privacy.” 

Use of Event Photos

The best practice with respect to using images taken at ministry events is to refrain from identifying any of the individuals in the image.

When out in public view, courts have consistently refused to protect individuals from photographs, video, or written reports involving their presence or participation in any activity within view of the general public.

As a result, most jurisdictions do not impose liability on organizations that use images taken during organizational events when the people photographed are not individually identified. Even images that identify individuals, such as awards ceremonies, are often permitted because the person being photographed did not have a “reasonable expectation of privacy” at the event.

So long as the image is of an area easily and normally in public view, the individuals in that area will not likely have a “reasonable expectation of privacy” for activities taking place in that area.

The best practice with respect to using images taken at ministry events is to refrain from identifying any of the individuals in the image, either in a caption or in any related or attached article or description. Whenever that person’s identity will be provided by caption or by reference in the publication or posting, have him or her sign a consent form.

Use of Photos of Guest Speakers or Well-Known People

Complicating this area of the law is the development of “publicity rights” of celebrities and other influential people.

The law of privacy allows a person to seek legal protections from the use of his or her name or image by another person or organization. Generally, the use of the name or image must benefit the other person or organization, usually either financially or in terms of promotion of the person or organization. For example, if a church uses the name and image of a well-known religious leader, claiming that this leader endorses a particular ministry of the church, the religious leader may be entitled to take legal action against the church for using his name or likeness without permission to promote the church’s ministry.

The best practice with respect to using images of guest speakers or other well-known figures is to enter into an agreement with the individual that clearly articulates how his or her name or image may be used for promotional purposes.

Membership Directory Photos

If members are providing photos for use in the directory, the member is generally understood to have consented to the use of the image. However, that consent may not automatically be understood to apply to also providing address or telephone contact information with the image.

The best practice with respect to using images in membership directories is to have each member sign an acknowledgement that the image and other personal information will be used in the directory. This acknowledgement should inform the member of the procedures for withholding some or all of this information.

In the case of online directories, it is also recommended that ministries refrain from posting any identifying information (home addresses, phone numbers, and other contact information) on public, non-password protected websites for privacy and safety reasons. Online directories should be password protected to ensure that identifying information is restricted to members of the congregation.

Recommended Resources

If you found this information helpful, you might be interested in these other resources from Brotherhood Mutual:

*Important information: Brotherhood Mutual is pleased to provide Legal Assist as a complimentary resource. The services we offer through Legal Assist are intended to provide general legal information to our current and prospective policyholders.

The information we provide is intended to be helpful, but it does not constitute legal advice and is not a substitute for the advice from a licensed attorney in your area. Accordingly, no attorney/client relationship is created through this process, and no legal advice will be provided. We strongly encourage you to regularly consult with a local attorney as part of your risk management program.