Ask The Experts
YOUTH SPORTS AND THE LAW: How photos of youth athletes are used
Q: I’m the mother of three boys ages 14, 10 and 7 who all participate in a bunch of different sports through our local recreation department. The department’s website posts league standings, game and practice schedules and also different action shots of the kids participating. After seeing photos of my boys on the website, as well as being used in some of the promotional brochures the department sends out, I’m becoming concerned that this could pose a risk to my kids and others if child predators could somehow use this information in some way. As a parent do I have any right in preventing photos of my children being used on websites or in flyers and brochures, or do recreation departments have the right to takes photos of kids playing in their programs and use them any way they want?
A: You are the parent and legal guardian of your minor children. You have the right to determine whether any organization, municipal or private, is permitted to publicize the images of your children for any purpose, particularly a promotional or “commercial” purpose.
That right is a basic tenet of the law of the right to publicity. It is a property right based on state common law and sometimes statute. Although state laws vary, it is likely that wherever you reside state law is in your favor on this issue.
Arguably, the recreation department operates its website to encourage, maintain, and recruit participants in the program. That appears to be a commercial purpose. As such, the recreation department can use neither the children’s images, nor yours, without your consent.
If they never asked – usually the request is made via a form – this is most likely an oversight and based on the fact that no one has objected in the past. Based on your concerns, you can bring the issue to the attention of those who run the recreation department programs and politely request that they give parents the option of consenting or declining (within the initial registration form) the website’s use of their children’s images. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the request, and you are within your legal rights to make it.
I would be surprised if you meet resistance. The recreation department would have to remove images of your children from the website if that is part of your request.
Sexual predators are a real problem in our society, and it is almost impossible to predict the risks they pose to any given community. When it comes to electing whether or not to allow your children’s images in connection with recreation department games and practices, this is a matter where the risk can be reduced to virtually zero simply by saying no.
Children, however, enjoy seeing their and their friends’ action photos, particularly if the photos involve a great performance or victory. The best way to make this safer is to have team and game photos taken by a designated parent and distributed exclusively to an email list of parents and guardians for the specific team. That way, there is no publicity of the children’s photos on the website, and the only people who receive the photos are specific team parents and guardians.
If the recreation department requests that it be allowed to post team photos, this is not uncommon, and there are ways to do this in a reasonably safe manner. One way would be to include no names of any players on a team. Only the team name and the coaches would be specifically identified. Underneath the team photos, the website can contain a written description of the team’s on-field record and success. That way, the children are not identified by name, the success of the program is advanced in a way that helps recruit players in the future, and the children are given the thrill of seeing the team depicted on the website.
But you, as the parent and guardian of your own children, are within your rights to object to (and prevent) the unauthorized publication of your children’s images. If that is what you elect to do, the recreation department should comply with your decision.
David Langfitt is a partner in the Locks Law Firm in Philadelphia, Pa., where he specializes in complex commercial, mass tort and fiduciary litigation. He has also litigated multiple patent and copyright infringement claims in federal district and appellate courts. He can be reached at (215) 893-3423 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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