Business

Ask a Lawyer: Filming in a Public Space

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Do you need a release for people who end up in the background of your shot? Because that’d be a whole lot of documents.

Each and every week, we invite a guest attorney to our Facebook page to answer questions from our users. This week’s best? A question about filming in public spaces and whether you need permission from people who happen across your camera’s lens. Of course, keep in mind that this has to do with filming something for public consumption. Home movies don’t really apply.

Unless you’re planning on sending them to America’s Funniest Home Videos, that is.

If I’m shooting a film in a public space, do I need to get the permission of people who may appear in the background of my images? – Alex G.


Hi Alex, thanks for the question!  In an ideal world, you’d get everyone who appears in your movie to sign a release form, but that’s obviously not practical when any bystander can walk into your shot (like if you’re filming a documentary or a public event, for example).

The thing is that when people are in a public space, they’ve already forfeited some of their right to privacy–getting a release is an extra precaution though. Generally, as long as the images of people aren’t offensive, defamatory or unreasonably invade their privacy, you don’t have to get every person in the crowd to sign a release. Think of it this way: if it were totally illegal to take images of crowds, the nightly news would never be able to show street footage.  That said, anybody who is interviewed, or has a very prominent role (like a featured extra) should probably sign a release form.  Here’s an example: http://www.rocketlawyer.com/document/release-for-use-of-likeness.rl

Another way to get a little more protection is to do a crowd release notice. That means you post signs that you’re filming at all of the entrances and exits of your location, and explain how people’s likenesses may be used.  This is easier if the filming location is in a somewhat enclosed space.  Here’s an example of one: http://www.flickr.com/photos/roboquaker/2561165032/

And don’t forget, depending on the size of your production and whether or not it’s commercial in nature, you may need a permit to film in some public locations.  For example, you need a permit to shoot a commercial film in San Francisco parks. http://sfrecpark.org/PermitsAndReservations-FilmVideoPhotoProduction.aspx

Hope that helps!

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