Brian Rogers, a media lawyer with a focus on libel, privacy and freedom of expression, says the concerns around how to use the photos from the party are mostly ethical considerations. From a legal perspective, he argues, things are much clearer.
The subjects in the photographs appear to be deliberately posing, so the photos don’t seem to have been taken without permission, he says. So, there is no case to be made for a legal infringement on privacy.
By consenting to the photos, the participants should have also reasonably expected that their images would be circulated on social media, Rogers adds. Once the images were made public on social media, the media were free to pick them up and pursue a relevant news story.
“The media obviously is taking them from social media and extending them to a whole new audience, so there is a legal concern over copyright, depending on how the photographs were made available,” Rogers says. But, assuming there are no copyright concerns, he says news outlets are free to use the photos in their coverage of the party.
Rogers also notes that privacy concerns are greater when it comes to those under the age of majority, which is 18 in Ontario. It’s unlikely that anyone attending a university-related event would be under that age, he says. And, in any case, there are no laws requiring a news organization to get permission from anyone before printing photos of minors, Rogers adds.
For Rogers, the more important legal consideration comes down to how those in the photos are characterized. Media organizations could run into defamation problems, he says, if the subjects in the photos dispute how their actions are depicted.
Over at BuzzFeed, Daro’s primary concern was the ethical—not legal—ambiguities in disclosing the identities of the participants. The decision to blur or not blur ultimately hinged on whether it was fair to leave a permanent mark on the reputations of the partygoers—some of whom may have had a lapse in judgement they may later regret.