Who Really Owns that Picture You Don’t Want Anyone to See? In the wake of the recent iCloud private celebrity pictures posted on 4chan, an image-based bulletin board, let us discuss the true ownership and recourse of posting pictures you don’t want anyone to see. Generally, under United States Copy Right law, the owner of a photograph is classified as the person who took the picture. Along with that ownership, comes certain rights to the photograph. Specifically, under U.S Copyright Act at 17 U.S.C 106, the owner has the right to (1) reproduce the photograph, (2) prevent any derivative works based on the photograph, (3) distribute copies to the public by sale, lease or lending, and (4) display the image to public.
So if the picture you don’t want anyone to see is the result of a “selfie” then you have the sole right to prevent any unauthorized distribution, public viewing and display of your work. However, on the other hand, if a third party took the picture, even with your camera, technically they would be considered the true owner of the picture you don’t want anyone to see. As a result, they could potentially release, transfer, lend, or display to the public the picture you don’t want anyone to see.
If You took the Picture You Don’t Want Anyone to See
Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA), enacted in 1998, there exists what’s called a “Safe Harbor” provision. The “safe harbor” provision allows the owner (you) of pictures you don’t want anyone to see, the ability to issue a takedown notice to digital content platforms such as Reddit, YouTube, FaceBook, etc. to remove the content you’d like to prevent anyone else from viewing. A digital content provider could be found contributorily liable for copyright infringement if they do not quickly adhere to your takedown notice.
If You Didn’t Take the Picture You Don’t Want Anyone to See
Well, unfortunately, you fall under the distinct legal category of S.O.L, and I’m not talking about statute of limitations. There may be some alternative legal recourse such as intentional infliction of emotional distress, or invasion of privacy, however strong affirmative defenses exist to these claims lending to costly litigation. Bottom line; know who you’re engaging with when it comes to sensitive photographic subject matter. Not everyone will have your best interest at heart when things turn for the worse. If you must take pictures you don’t want anyone to see, enjoy the pictures for the time being, then destroy them would be the best advice I could give.