How to remove photos of you from the internet
Gateley Legal NI
A common complaint I hear from clients is that there is an unwanted and troublesome photo of them on social media which they want removed. Often it is of an embarrassing or compromising nature and from their university or school days, taken at a social occasion by them or a friend.
Sometimes, it is a private or sexual image or video taken by an ex-lover or partner who has posted the photo online in an act of revenge or to humiliate the subject. Such images can even be posted on ‘revenge porn’ websites or shared on WhatsApp with social or community groups.
With the rise in sophistication of camera technology on smart phones, this issue is becoming ever more prevalent. It has become such a problem on social media that Twitter announced recently that they are banning the posting of photos and videos of people without their consent. This is a huge step forward for the social media giant as, normally, if an image is posted publicly on a social media site then their Terms and Conditions provide a legal right for that image to be used, both by the social media company and the wider public. This is how journalists are able to legally use such images (as they have been publicly shared by the subject on the internet). However, this announcement by Twitter is positive news and the word on the grape vine is that other social media giants will follow suit. This is especially due to such companies facing negative PR for not doing enough to combat the misuse of such media, for example through the trolling and bullying of their users.
So do you have legal rights that can help you remove these images from online? The answer is yes.
In intellectual property law, the person who creates an image normally owns the copyright. So for example, a photographer would own the copyright in a photo they have taken. In order for someone who had not taken the photo to be able to use that photo, they would need to obtain a ‘licence’ from the copyright owner. The ownership in copyright can also be ‘assigned’ to another person by way of a formal legal agreement.
- Tip: if you took the photo, contact the person who has posted the photo and tell them that you own the copyright and they are breaching this legal right by using the photo without a licence. Accordingly, ask that they remove the photo immediately or you will take legal action. If you have not taken the photo, ask the person who owns the copyright to ‘assign’ the copyright to you and then you ownthe rights in the photo and you can demand it is removed. If a photo you have taken is on a US website, then you can use a ‘DMCA Take Down Notice’ per the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act to have the photo removed –but you may need a help of a lawyer to do this effectively.
Images of you can also be ‘personal data’ per the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). A person who publishes a photo of you is a ‘processor’ of that data. The GDPR provides the processor with certain legal justifications for publishing the photo. One of these justifications is that the ‘consent’ of the data subject is required.
- Tip: did you provide your consent for the photo to be taken and published? If not, contact the poster and tell them that your consent was not provided and therefore the publication of the photo is in breach of your GDPR rights and should be removed immediately or you will take legal action.
If private or sexual images of you are shared online against your will and are designed to harm you, then this is a criminal offence under the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 and the Communications Act 2003. You have a legal right to report the perpetrator.
- Tip: contact the police immediately to report the incident and follow their guidance on how you should contact (if atall) the perpetrator. The police have the power to remove these images from online so often this is the quickest route to removal of such images. Civil legal action can also be considered if the criminal route is not effective.
Social Media Terms and Conditions
All social media companies have User Terms and Conditions. Often an image may fall foul of these T&Cs, for example if it constitutes bullying, harassment or intimidation. Most platforms have a reporting tool to remedy these situations.
- Tip: check the T&Cs and use the platform’s reporting tool to have the image removed and the poster banned. Note that Twitter now have a reporting tool to remove a photo that is posted without your consent. If you encounter any issues with this process, get legal advice.
Finally, if you have posted images of yourself on social media, then deleting them from your profile should delete them from other users’ photos, for example if the image is tagged in Facebook. However, if the photo was posted by a friend and not you, then a quick solution is simply to ask the friend to delete the image. If this doesn’t work, then see the tips above. If in doubt, please contact the Reputation Management team at Gateley Legal.