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Being threatened with lawsuit by over-protective mom....

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shvr
Being threatened with lawsuit by over-protective mom....
by
on May 23, 2006 at 10:38:29 am

I shot some background stock footage to lay under some vital narration for a doc that I'm editing about a local enviromental issue. In the footage, we can see people enjoying a local park at a distance, but there are some kids playing in the foreground and you can see there faces, although they are a bit out of focus.

After I shot the footage, one of the kids came up to me and asked what I was shooting and I told him it was a documentary film etc and gave him my card.

The doc is finished and sent off to a local station for broadcast next month and I believe it has been submitted to several festivals as well.

Well, I just got a call from the kid's mother who has threatened me with a lawsuit if her son's image appears in the film (I'm not even sure which kid he is in the footage.) I told her you cannot even tell one person from the other in the shot (which last about 20 seconds and is in slow-mo,) but she doesn't care - she said I don't have permission and she is concerned about child predators and so on...what a headache!

I talked to the producers of the doc and they insisted they have the right to use the footage and the woman is just blowing smoke and not to worry about it. I've offered to re-shoot the footage, but the producers love the current shot (it turned out great) and the film is already been submitted and they don't want to hassle with it.

So should I just forget about this and move on? Should I give the woman the producer's contact info (I may do more work for them and I don't want to tick them off and lose future work?) Any advice would be appreciated.



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mark Suszko
Re: Being threatened with lawsuit by over-protective mom....
on May 23, 2006 at 1:58:37 pm

I.A.N.A.L., but I think you're safe in this case. I mean, she can still sue you, and you will spend time and money defending yourself, but I don't think she can win because of the circumstances. Public place, shot in a group from a distance, not singled out or in any way identified, for a documentary. All those factors carry some weight in the privacy rights debate. How a predator is supposed to make something out of that 20-second clip beats me. Be sure to let her know you will file a counter-claim for court costs and lost business.

If it's really keeping you up at night, you can talk to a real lawyer about this for a small amount, maybe fifty dollars to straighten it out over the phone or in his office. If that's too expensive, you can try free legal advice sources like nolo.



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Bill Dewald
Re: Being threatened with lawsuit by over-protective mom....
on May 23, 2006 at 2:09:24 pm

I'm not a lawyer either, but I can see the mom's point of view. In my opinion, you have no right to exploit her child's image without her consent. Words in your post like "foreground", "can see their faces", and "slightly fuzzy", are setting off alarm bells in my head.

As for advice - don't hand out business cards to people you are secretly videotaping.

And talk to a lawyer.

Cheers - Bill


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cow
Mike_S
Re: Being threatened with lawsuit by over-protective mom....
on May 24, 2006 at 8:25:42 am

Another thought to consider: the woman may have good reasons for wanting privacy. She could be an escapee from a violent relationship; her child may have been through abuse and a contested adoption, or even kidnap attempts - you don't know. Just because you don't know what's driving her, that doesn't mean she might not have good reason.

but there are some kids playing in the foreground and you can see there faces - This sounds like you know there's trouble.

You kind of know that those kids were too close for comfort, and that you probably should have moved them on or gone for consent form signatures, or you wouldn't be posting I guess.

It's bad luck that your good will in passing on your contact details has produced you this problem; but I suspect your producers may be on a loser if she takes legal advice.

Apparently the law on privacy varies from state to state, but many states do recognise a right to privacy, and some argue that http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Griswold_v._Connecticut extends that right across the US. But you'd need legal opinion on that.







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Mike_S
Re: Being threatened with lawsuit by over-protective mom....
on May 24, 2006 at 8:58:23 am

This link from a lawyer may be a relevant jumping off point ..
http://www.photosecrets.com/p14.html


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shvr
Re: Being threatened with lawsuit by over-protective mom....
by
on May 24, 2006 at 9:45:06 am

Thanks for the links and feedback. I learned a good lesson with this one: Avoid getting kids in your shot and don't give out information to kids (especially with your business card) because they are likely to get the story wrong. And sure enough, this 12 year old kid appearently went home and told his mom that I was "stalking" them and taking their pictures, at least that is what the police told me today after they called and inquired about the whole thing (the mom had called the police first, and it took them a couple days to follow up with me.)

I put the cops in touch with the docs producers and they have sorted the whole thing out with the mother this evening. The mom gets a free DVD of the doc and the shot stays in!

For my part, I was accused by the mom for being defensive and not sensitive to her concerns when she talked to me initially. I may have been. But I feel like I was caught in the middle here. I should have just referred her to the producers to begin with.



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Mike_S
Re: Being threatened with lawsuit by over-protective mom....
on May 24, 2006 at 10:04:54 am

Glad it all worked out. And good luck with the environmental issue - and the festivals!


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Michael Mills
Re: Being threatened with lawsuit by over-protective mom....
on May 24, 2006 at 1:19:14 pm

I work often for a very large international company with thousands of locations world-wide, 12 million members and undisclosed networth. The company has a lot at stake and a legal department that is the best in the world. When working for them I am not required to get photo releases for individuals in groups larger than fifteen people and the stuff I produce for them is broadcast world-wide.

Leap and the net will appear!


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cowcowcow
Frank Otto
Re: Being threatened with lawsuit by over-protective mom....
on May 24, 2006 at 4:01:49 pm

Odd... I do work for a large multinational, hundreds of thousands of employees, the largest company globally of its kind with billions of dollars a year in revenues -

And we still have to get releases on individuals - even if they're in a group of a hundred. Plus post signage and shooting disclaimers.

The "best in the world" legal department has just been lucky. Even with releases, we still get sued - people are greedy - for some reason, the "unrecoqnizable" face in the back now has a name and legal reperesentaion and a dozen friends who'll testify they saw the subject on tv.

We just had a case involving a Margaritaville spot, model with release still wanted more three years down the line. And a spot running for six years just got pulled because one person in the deep background got identified and hadn't signed a release - sued us for all the teasing she recieved.

The M'ville model got shot down - the other one got a payday. The difference was the release.


Cheers,

Frank Otto



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cowcow
Michael Mills
Re: Being threatened with lawsuit by over-protective mom....
on May 24, 2006 at 4:16:50 pm

I'm not saying that legal team doesn't have litigation to deal with, but in the end you're right, it's all about the release, and if I can get one from them before they run away I want it to protect myself.

Best,

Michael Mills

Leap and the net will appear!


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Michael Munkittrick
Re: Being threatened with lawsuit by over-protective mom....
on May 24, 2006 at 6:02:07 pm

Generally speaking, if your footage was shot on public land, be it owned by the city or a branch of the government and so long as it is not deemed private property, there are no grounds that would be sufficient to support a lawsuit against you. In fact, legal recourse would be a waste of the lady's time, but if she wants to dance


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shvr
Re: Being threatened with lawsuit by over-protective mom....
by
on May 25, 2006 at 3:51:18 am

Well, once the cops called me, I just passed the matter off to the producer because I was working for him. The production did have permission to shoot in town because much of the shooting took place in this very same park and at the beach - whether this was a blanket shooting permit or not I can't say.



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Timothy J. Allen
Re: Being threatened with lawsuit by over-protective mom....
on May 25, 2006 at 10:04:00 pm

I'm glad to see that it's working out for you once the mom realized you were a legitimate photographer.

Having been on both sides of this issue, I agree that it's important to get releases. Of course, in this case the children were not at the age where their signature would have carried any legal weight - technically, you would have had to get their legal guardian's permission to shoot them if it's recognizable. (It sounds like that was eventually done by the producers, which is good since that responsibility is ultimately theirs anyway.)

But you all can see the flip side, right? If a "stranger" was taping your kid while they played at the park and you found out about it after the fact, wouldn't you want to know more about what was really going on? As a parent, I know I would, and since I know the law (generally), I wouldn't hesitate to cite it chapter and verse to the videographer and producers. If they weren't VERY responsive to my inquiries, I'd wouldn't hesitate to bring the police into it. It's my kids safety on the line (Even if it's a question of perception, I'd rather be on the safe side.)

The lesson here is to be open with people about what you are taping and why you are taping it. If they don't want to participate (and sign a release) ask them (or at worst case... pay them) to get out of the shot.

Giving them your card may have caused you a headache, but trust me that it was the correct and ethical move. If I confronted a videographer about taping my kids and they wouldn't give me contact info I'd find it anyway.

You did the right thing by following through.

-Tim



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Mike_S
Re: Being threatened with lawsuit by over-protective mom....
on May 26, 2006 at 8:28:57 am

Good points, Timothy. Surely the appropriate response here is to be more of a good citizen, not less.


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