I run a nonprofit and we are celebrating our 10th anniversary this year for one of our chapters. They have many photos through the years from events and want to put together a slide show of these photos to show at the anniversary party. This party is for members only.
I know we have periodically done photo releases at events, but I know we do not have one for every subject of every photograph. Do we need a photo release for each subject in each photograph in order to do this? I understand that we could not use this promotionally or commercially or publicly without the releases, but could we share it internally within the organization (i.e. show it at the party and/or in the for-members-only portal on our website)?
I know you would like an easy, simple answer, but that is not possible. Persons who appear in photographs have rights of publicity. Persons who are members in your organization also have rights of privacy. The fact that your company is nonprofit, or that the party is for members only, does not significantly change the analysis---the question is whether your use of these photographs could violate these rights. This is a hard question to answer based on the limited information in your question. If persons voluntarily pose for pictures at public events, it can be argued that they consented to appearing in the photograph and consented to the use of the photograph for the purposes of which it was taken. If the photograph was taken for purposes of use by your organization, then the persons who appear might have given their implied consent to appear. On the other hand, if the persons who appear in the photographs were unaware that they appeared therein, did not consent either implicitly or explicitly, and otherwise was unaware that you might use the photographs in a slide show such as this, they might legitimately contend that your use without permission violates their rights of publicity and privacy. This is a particularly thorny issue for people who support a non-profit and participate in charitable events---many persons who appear in these events do not want publicity concerning that appearance, and would prefer to remain anonymous. Others might welcome the association with your organization. Bottom line---the only way to safely handle this is to get releases from those who appear in the photographs. If you cannot get a release, then each individual photograph needs to be analyzed separately to ascertain whether there was implied or express consent, or whether use of the photograph might be objected to by the persons who appear therein.
Being a non-profit in no way insulates you from liability, although you'd think it would make a difference to those who might sue you. Not necessarily so. Similarly, "internal" use among your membership doesn't change anything, although the exposure is certainly less if the use is only internal
Photo releases are to get around the photo subjects' "publicity rights," which is everyone's right to own, control and exploit their own images, names, etc.
Your other concern needs to be copyright infringement, because unless the non-profit organization, through its hired photographer or employees took these photos, their copyrights belong to their creators who took them, and your organization can't display a photo it doesn't own.
Avvo doesn't pay us for these responses, and I'm not your lawyer just because I answer this question or respond to any follow-up comments. If you want to hire me, please contact me. Otherwise, please don't expect a further response. We need an actual written agreement to form an attorney-client relationship. I'm only licensed in CA and you shouldn't rely on this answer, since each state has different laws, each situation is fact specific, and it's impossible to evaluate a legal problem without a comprehensive consultation and review of all the facts and documents at issue.
If the photos that have been taken through the years were taken at organization events to document the organization's history, and if the people in the photos posed for the photos (and particularly if they went to a press area to have their photos taken), you would likely be able to argue that the organization has implied consent to use the photos in organization events, even if you do not have a formal consent/release.
You have already said that you will not be using the photos to promote the event, and will not be posting them on a website or otherwise showing them to the public. So, based on my experience working with non-profit organizations over the years, if you use flattering photos and all of the people shown are still involved with the organization, I think it is unlikely that you will receive any complaints.
That being said, as my colleagues have indicated, your question raises a number of legal issues and we are not in a position to give you a legal opinion. Since you are concerned, it would be prudent to consult with the organization's legal advisor who will be in a better position to discuss the relevant facts and circumstances (and potential risks) with you in a private setting.
Any answer or other information posted above is general in nature and is not intended, nor should it be construed, as legal advice. This posting does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and the posting attorney, and you are urged to engage a qualified attorney who is licensed to practice in the relevant jurisdiction.
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