Blogging in Germany: Using photos

Photographer - ©Can Stock Photo Inc. / dny3dI often see blogs from other countries that contain photos that appear to have been taken in public spaces and then used to illustrate new posts, and I am sure that many of those authors don’t give a second thought to using them.

And yet using such photos on German blogs can lead to all sorts of complicated issues, which fall under a variety of categories.  However the phrase use are most likely to hear is the “Recht am eigenen Bild” – the right to one’s own image.

There are situations that are probably just obvious.  Using someone else’s photo without asking would infringe on their copyright, something that most people understand.  But these days people are more “up” on what copyright is and defend it accordingly.

Even our local open-air theatre warns the audience not to take photos during the performance – not because the camera flashes would put the actors off, but because it would be a breach of copyright.  Do they refuse the press permission to take photos as well, I wonder?  Last year they even gave a public preview-type performance in one of the town squares, so I was able to take a photo there, in a public space.

But it’s more than just copyright, it’s about privacy as well.  People have a right to decide if they want something published on the internet.  The rule of thumb is that if a photo shows 3 people or less, then you need their permission, unless they were bystanders and not the focal point of the photograph.  However that doesn’t mean that you can put a group photo onto your homepage, because then the group is probably posing for the photograph and needs to give permission.  But a group giving a performance on the town square is a different matter – you don’t see the local newspaper asking them if them would like to be reported on.

It gets more complicated if children are involved, and can mean getting written parental consent before you can publish a photo.  Some parents even get aggressive if they think that you are photographing their child, when in reality you are trying to take a photograph of a tourist attraction and you would rather have the picture without their child on it in the first place.  Of course, if you are from the local paper they are usually only too delighted to see their child’s photo in print.  After all, that’s not the internet.

In a similar vein, many schools and kindergartens either get parental consent to use photos of the children attending them on their websites, whilst at the same time forbidding parents themselves from publishing any photos taken on the grounds.  Unless they work for the local paper, that is…

Anyway it’s not just people that are the problem, but also buildings.  Many Germans have some idea that the outside of buildings are in some way protected, and cannot be photographed without their permission, hence the recent problems with Google StreetView.  Some say it is a privacy thing.  Others, like town councils, don’t like the idea of someone earning money by taking a photograph of a local landmark.  Unless, of course, it’s with their permission.

And yet the rules as I understand them (and have had confirmed to me by several experts in this area) are quite simple.  If you can take the photo from a public road without technical assistance, then you can use it for blogging purposes.  “Technical assistance” would mean for example using a telephoto-lens, standing on a ladder, or mounting the camera on a pole on top of your car.

Finally, one thing that I find really obstructive is the attitude to using artwork for events.  If I see a poster about a festival that I’d like to write about, then the simplest thing would be to use a photo of that poster to illustrate my article.

But not only might I need to get permission from the organiser to do so, I may need to ask the designer as well, or anyone else who may have an interest in the copyright of the poster.  Sponsors, for example.  They may require me to remove the poster from the article after a certain number of days has passed, degrading the value of the post.  They may even want a fee, if the organiser did not get permission for third-party (dare I say press?) use of the poster to cut design costs.

I am pretty sure that in most other countries, the organisers would be only too delighted to have their event announced to the world on-line.

All of this leads me to my very simple rule when it comes to illustrating blog posts.  If I can take an original photo to illustrate something, then I do.  If not, I buy a stock photo.


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About Graham

Graham Tappenden is a British ex-pat who first came to Germany as a placement student in 1993, returning in 1995 to live there permanently. He has been writing for since 2006. When not writing blog posts or freelancing for the Oberurseler Woche and other publications he works as a self-employed IT consultant solving computer problems and designing websites. In 2016 he gained German citizenship.

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