Commons:Photographs of identifiable people

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Image taken in a private place with consent.

When dealing with photographs of people, we are required to consider the legal rights of the subject and the ethics of publishing the photo in addition to the concerns of the photographer and owner of the image. These former issues are quite distinct from the copyright status of the image and may restrict or impose obligations on those taking, uploading or reusing a photograph. A Creative Commons licence or public domain status, for example, means that the photographer (or other owner) has waived or lost certain rights and that their permission to use the image is not required. However, the photographer is not able to remove any rights belonging to the subject of the photograph.

The subject's consent is usually needed for publishing a photograph of an identifiable individual taken in a private place, and Commons expects this even if local laws do not require it. In many countries (especially English-speaking ones) the subject's consent is not usually needed for publishing a straightforward photograph of an identifiable individual taken in a public place. However, the term "publishing" should not be construed to include commercial use, as consent is usually required in these situations. Moreover, the country specific consent requirements vary. Many factors can determine whether and what degree of consent is required.

In most countries, these issues only affect images where the person is identifiable and still alive. Certain legal and ethical issues may remain if the person is dead or if they cannot be identified.

Legal issues

There are two forms of personality rights that govern the taking, hosting and use of photographs where the subject is a living person: the right of publicity and the right of privacy. Care should also be taken not to defame the subject.

An image is unacceptable to Commons if it is illegal, or arguably illegal, in any one or more of: (a) the country in which the photograph was taken; (b) the country from which the image was uploaded; (c) the USA (where Commons images are stored).

The {{Personality rights}} template may be used to warn re-users of Commons’ content that local laws may impose additional requirements on reuse, over and above those enforced here. Laws both where the photo is taken and where it is published should be taken into account.

The right of publicity

Patricia de León allowed her image to be used in an anti-bullfighting advertisement for PETA[1]

Main: COM:personality rights § Likeness and persona

The right of publicity is the right to control the commercial use of one's likeness. The most obvious example of this is in advertising (and it applies whether or not the advertisement itself is for commercial purposes). This right concerns the subject of the photograph and is distinct from the photographer's copyright license which may impose its own terms or grant freedoms regarding commercial reuse. All images hosted on Commons must allow free commercial reuse from a copyright point-of-view, but the subject of the photograph may still refuse permission or demand payment for such reuse. However, this right does not affect the hosting of an image on Commons, rarely affects the use of an image on a Wikimedia project, and is only likely to affect advertisemental/commercial re-users of the image. Note that in some countries and US states, the right of publicity may persist for some time after the subject's death.

The right of privacy

The right of privacy is the right to be left alone and not to be made the subject of public scrutiny without consent. The right to privacy is enshrined in several international laws though the details with regard to photographs vary from country to country. Images must not unreasonably intrude into the subject's private or family life.

The law on privacy concerning photographs can be crudely divided into whether the photograph was taken in a private or public place. A private place is somewhere the subject has a reasonable expectation of privacy while a public place is somewhere where the subject has no such expectation – the terms are unrelated to whether the land is privately or publicly owned. For example, a tent on a beach is a private place on public land and a concert is a public place on private property. A place may be publicly accessible but still retain an expectation of privacy concerning photography, for example a hospital ward during visiting hours. Whether the place is private or not may also depend on the situation at the time: for example that same hospital ward would have been a public place during a tour before it opens.

In the United States (where the Commons servers are located), consent is not as a rule required to photograph people in public places.[2] Hence, unless there are specific local laws to the contrary, overriding legal concerns (e.g., defamation) or moral concerns (e.g., picture unfairly obtained), the Commons community does not normally require that an identifiable subject of a photograph taken in a public place has consented to the image being taken or uploaded. This is so whether the image is of a famous personality or of an unknown individual.

In many countries the subject's consent is needed to just take a picture, and/or to publish it and/or to use it commercially even if the person is in a public place. Further nuances may include the age of the subject, what the subject is doing at the time, whether the subject is famous, whether the image concerns news of public interest, etc. See Commons:Country specific consent requirements for details.

Because of the expectation of privacy, the consent of the subject should normally be sought before uploading any photograph featuring an identifiable individual that has been taken in a private place, whether or not the subject is named. Even in countries that have no law of privacy, there is a moral obligation on us not to upload photographs which infringe the subject's reasonable expectation of privacy.


In some countries, proportionality (fair use) is the main legal criterion of all exceptions. That means usual practices are admitted and tolerated by the law.


Images must not unfairly ridicule or demean the subject. This may result simply from the content of the image but can also arise by poor choice of title, description or category. Defamation is both a legal and moral issue; therefore, Commons does not base decisions on whether the subject is able or likely to sue.


If the photographer is employed while taking photographs, their actions may be subject to their employment contract or the rules of their professional body. For issues concerning medical staff and photographs of patients, see the essay Commons:Patient images.

Moral issues


While some aspects of ethical photography and publication are controlled by law, there are moral issues too. They find a reflection in the wording of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 12:[3]"No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation." Common decency and respect for human dignity may influence the decision whether to host an image above that required by the law. The extent to which an image might be regarded as "unfairly obtained" or to be "intrusive", for example, is a matter of degree and may depend on the nature of the shot, the location, and the notability of the subject.

The provenance of an image may taint its use irredeemably. A "downblouse" or "creepshot" photograph is not made ethically acceptable just because the subject's face is cropped out. A paparazzi telephoto shot of a naked sunbather does not become acceptable merely by pixelating the face.

In the same way as quality newspapers may apply a "public interest" test to doubtful images, the degree to which an image meets our educational project scope may also be considered. When in doubt, there is no requirement for Commons to host any image of a person.


A hospital ward is a publicly-owned space where people have an expectation of privacy, so from the relevant point of view here, it is a private space.

Just as the circumstances of a photograph govern whether consent is required, they also influence the nature and degree of consent should it be required. There are three aspects: taking, uploading and using a photograph. At the most basic level, a subject looking at the camera and smiling might normally be assumed to have given their consent to have their photograph taken. In some circumstances, however, verbal or even written agreement may be required.

Consent to have one's photograph taken does not permit the photographer to do what they like with the image. An image on Commons will have greater potential exposure than one in a photo album, on a personal Facebook, or part of a user's Flickr stream. A model, for example, may have consented to the image being taken for a personal portfolio, but not for publication on the Internet. The photographer and uploader must satisfy themselves that, when it is required, the consent given is appropriate for uploading to Commons.

Some subjects are unable to give appropriate consent due to young age or because of learning difficulties. In these cases, the consent of the parents or responsible guardians should be sought.

For a self-portrait, where the subject of the photograph is also the photographer and/or uploader, consent is assumed, provided they are capable of giving appropriate consent (as noted above).

Normally it is sufficient that the uploader asserts that appropriate consent was given. The {{Consent}} template may be used for this purpose, though it is not required. Please refer to the template documentation.

An example of consent that is too restrictive for Commons would be a typical patient photography consent form, which may only allow the image to be used in medical journals or for teaching within the hospital. An example of consent that is more permissive than is required for Commons would be a model release, in which the subject gives up their right of publicity.

Country specific

The table below may be used for indication specific requirements in various countries. Note though, that it is not a legally binding text and that because a country isn't listed here, it does not reflect a fact that everyone is free to take/publish/commercially use pictures of people in public spaces in that country. Further details, with references, may be found on Commons:Country specific consent requirements or by clicking on country links in the table.

Consent required for action related to a picture of a person in a public place (by country)
Country/Territory Take a picture Publish1 a picture Commercially2 use a published picture
Afghanistan No Yes (with exceptions) Yes (with exceptions)
Argentina No Yes (with exceptions) Yes (with exceptions)
Australia No (with exceptions) No (with exceptions) Yes
Austria No No (with exceptions) Yes
Belgium No Yes (with exceptions) Yes
Brazil Yes Yes Yes
Bulgaria No No Yes
Canada Depends on province Yes (with exceptions) Yes
China, People's Republic of No No Yes
China, Republic of No No (with exceptions) Yes
Czech Republic Yes (with exceptions) Yes (with exceptions) Yes (with exceptions)
Denmark No Yes (with exceptions) Yes (with exceptions)
Ethiopia No Yes (with exceptions) Yes
Finland No Yes (with exceptions) Yes (with exceptions)
France Yes (with exceptions) Yes (with exceptions)[4] Yes
Germany No (with exceptions) Yes (with exceptions) Yes (with exceptions)
Greece No No Yes (with exceptions)
Hong Kong SAR Depends on circumstances Depends on circumstances Depends on circumstances
Hungary Yes (with exceptions) Yes (with exceptions) Yes (with exceptions)
Iceland No No (with exceptions) Yes
India No No (with exceptions) Yes (with exceptions)
Indonesia Yes (with exceptions) Yes (with exceptions) Yes (with exceptions)
Iran No (with exceptions) No (with exceptions) No (with exceptions)
Ireland No (with exceptions) No (with exceptions) No (with exceptions)
Israel No No (with exceptions) Yes
Italy No No[5][6][7] Yes[8]
Japan Yes (with exceptions) Yes (with exceptions) Yes (with exceptions)
Libya No Yes (with exceptions) Yes
Macau SAR Yes (with exceptions) Yes (with exceptions) Yes (with exceptions)
Mexico No Yes Yes
Netherlands No No (with exceptions) No (with exceptions)
New Zealand No (with exceptions) No (with exceptions) Yes
Norway No Yes (with exceptions) Yes (with exceptions)
Peru No Yes (with exceptions) Yes (with exceptions)
Poland No Yes (with exceptions) Yes
Portugal No (with exceptions) Yes (with exceptions) Yes
Romania No Yes (with exceptions) Yes (with exceptions)
Russian Federation No Yes (with exceptions) Yes (with exceptions)
Singapore No (with exceptions) No (with exceptions) No (with exceptions)
Slovakia Yes (with exceptions) Yes (with exceptions) Yes (with exceptions)
Slovenia No No Yes
South Africa No No Yes
South Korea Yes (with exceptions) Yes (with exceptions) Yes (with exceptions)
Spain Yes Yes Yes
Sweden No No Yes
Switzerland Yes Yes Yes
Turkey Yes (with exceptions) Yes (with exceptions) Yes (with exceptions)
United Kingdom No (with exceptions) No (with exceptions) Yes
United States No No Usually (although laws differ by state)
1:In this context of consent requirements, "publish" refers to "making public" and is separate from the term "publish" as may be defined elsewhere (e.g. U.S./U.K. copyright law).

2:In this context of consent requirements, "commercial use" is separate from, and not in reference to, licensing conditions that may prohibit commercial use (non-commercial licenses). Often commercial use in this context is contrasted with "editorial use", with the former referring to advertising and marketing purposes and the latter referring to news reporting and education even if made with a profit motive.


The degree to which a subject is identifiable varies. An image that includes a clear view of the face is highly identifiable. Other features of the person's body, clothing or the location may help with identifying the subject. Outside of the image, clues may be obtained from the image title, description, origin, source url, and meta-data including but not limited to the geolocation and date. The greater the privacy issue with an image, the more weight should be given to the risk of identification by non-obvious means. Whether the person is the clear subject of the photograph or a mere bystander or background detail is another important factor.

The risk of identification can be minimised by not including certain information in the image description. However some details regarding the origin of the image (such as source url and author) may be a requirement of the source image licence or Commons policy, so cannot be removed. It may also be possible to shoot the subject from a different angle or frame it differently.

It is better to obtain consent than to attempt to anonymise an image that may require it. Placing a black band over the eyes was historically used to hide patient identity in medical publications but is no longer considered effective.[9] Pixelated features can sometimes be revealed by squinting one's eyes. Certain seemingly irreversible visual alterations such as applying a "twirl" effect over a subject's face may in fact be reversible.[10] These crude attempts to anonymise images may damage the value of an image to Commons to such a degree that it has limited or no realistic chance of being used.

Where the law forbids taking or publishing a photograph of a person without consent, and consent has not been given, then making the subject hard to identify (such as blurring their face) is unethical: the photograph should not be uploaded to Commons.

If the original or similar images are already present on the Internet (either on Commons or elsewhere) then attempts at anonymising the subject are ultimately futile. Content-based image retrieval engines such as TinEye or Google Images can identify a subject that has been anonymised. All of the following people are readily identifiable by anyone familiar with the subject. They may also be identified by computer, by simply dragging and dropping the image onto Google Images and searching for similar images.[11]


No consent was required for this photograph, because it was taken in a public place in the United States

The following examples do not require consent in many countries:

  • An anonymous street performer
  • An anonymous person, in a public place, especially as part of a larger crowd
  • People taking part in a public event at a privately-owned venue, for example, a press conference at an office building
  • A basketball player competing in a match which is open to the public

The following examples typically require consent:

  • A man and woman talking, entitled "A prostitute speaks to her pimp" (possible defamation)
  • An identifiable child, entitled "An obese girl" (potentially derogatory or demeaning)
  • Partygoers at a private party, unless press is specifically invited (unreasonable intrusion)
  • Nudes, underwear or swimsuit shots, unless obviously taken in a public place – even if the subject's face is obscured (unreasonable intrusion)
  • Telephoto images, taken from afar, of an individual in a private place (unreasonable intrusion)

Removal requests

The subject, photographer, or uploader of an image may request that it be removed from Commons. The reasons for removal may include such things as "It causes embarrassment" or "It was published without my consent", etc. Generally, images are not removed simply because the subject does not like them, but administrators are normally sympathetic to removal requests if good reasons can be given. In any case you may address a removal request through the normal public review process of a deletion request. If discretion is required, a deletion request explaining this may also be sent privately through Commons:Contact us/Problems.

Other image sources

Photographs with free licences that are hosted on other websites (such as Flickr) are often uploaded to Commons by users other than the photographer. This can make it difficult to ascertain whether consent was given. A free image licence only covers the photographer's rights and says nothing about the subject. It may be necessary to contact the owner of the photographs regarding permission from the subject, even though the licence means we do not need the photographer's permission.

See also

External links

The following websites discuss the rights of photographers taking photographs in public places:


  2. Nussenzweig v. DiCorcia
  4. Laurent, Olivier (23 April 2013). "Protecting the Right to Photograph, or Not to Be Photographed". The New York Times. Retrieved on 15 February 2015.
  5. Italy, Street-Photography and the Law (29 October 2013). Archived from the original on April 13, 2016. Retrieved on 15 February 2015.
  6. Monti, Andrea. Italian Law & Street Photography / What are you allowed to shoot?. Archived from the original on March 17, 2017. Retrieved on 15 February 2015.
  7. Art. 97. Legge 22 aprile 1941 n. 633 - Protezione del diritto d'autore e di altri diritti connessi al suo esercizio (G.U. n.166 del 16 luglio 1941) / Testo consolidato al 6 febbraio 2016 (DLgs 15 gennaio 2016, n. 8). Retrieved on 2020-05-05.
  8. Art. 96. Legge 22 aprile 1941 n. 633 - Protezione del diritto d'autore e di altri diritti connessi al suo esercizio (G.U. n.166 del 16 luglio 1941) / Testo consolidato al 6 febbraio 2016 (DLgs 15 gennaio 2016, n. 8). Retrieved on 2020-05-05.
  9. ICMJE | Recommendations | Protection of Research Participants. International Committee of Medical Journal Editors. Retrieved on 2016-10-02.
  10. Schneier, Bruce (2007-10-26). Untwirling a Photoshopped Photo - Schneier on Security. Retrieved on 2016-10-02.
  11. Google Images (Search by image).