Using a Person’s Personal Pictures in the Media
Internet users in Abu Dhabi received warnings regarding the legislation against cybercrime adopted in 2012. According to the new regulations, the possession of another person’s photo without his or her consent is punishable by the law. The violation of the law attracts penalties, which are even worse for expatriates because committing an offense warrants their deportation. Cyberbullies have been taking advantage of innocent social media users by stealing their photographs for malicious purposes. In January 2016, the police arrested a man in the UAE for downloading the photographs of a certain woman from her social media accounts. He created a fake account and used it for sex adverts and to lure men. The woman reported the incident to the police, who launched an investigation through the cybercrime department. After the arrest and interrogation of the suspect, he confessed that he used photographs of several other women for the same purpose.
The case mentioned above is one of the examples how images uploaded by social media users can bring them trouble. The Internet is not a safe place to share images, since there is the risk of them being published on another site. Retailers have been using Instagram, twitter, and Facebook as sources of candid shots for “consumer engagement.” While user-generated content helps to promote products, there is a thin line between capitalizing on social media and breaching people’s privacy. Many countries have not yet determined how strict social media privacy should be. However, it is generally deemed unethical to use people’s photographs without their consent. Sharing an individual’s personal photo on another person’s wall may also be offensive to people. Instagram and Facebook have their own policies on the copyright ownership of images. They have the right to use any images uploaded by users for their benefit. Under their current terms, when a user posts pictures or videos, they grant Facebook and Instagram a transferable, royalty-free, and global permission to use the IP content. Therefore, they can license the content to other parties without seeking approval from the owner.
Question: While some cases, such as the one described above, are illegal, the law does not make specific provisions for many others that are still ongoing. To what extent do individuals have control over their social media content and when should social media users avoid sharing other people’s images?
Some Internet sites have become havens for the infringement of copyrights. One of the worst scenarios is when an offender uses personal images of unsuspecting Internet users to perpetrate sexual motives. Facebook and Instagram have avenues for widespread infringement, given the possibility to download people’s images or take screenshots. Some people interpret such state of affairs as an implicit permission to download other people’s content and use it to market for their businesses. After all, the data are not restricted by any privacy settings. Consequently, when someone publishes their images on social media websites, may they still complain when other parties download them?
The Internet provides people with an opportunity and freedom to pass information to others and access it, whether it is for monetary benefits or simply for entertainment. With the large amount of information available on the Internet, the purpose of Internet has experienced drastic shifts in trends. The illegal use of other people’s information has proliferated. While some people do not “steal” images for financial reasons, those who use professional photographs for their sites monetize the efforts of other people in the end. Using other people’s images results to modern day plagiarism. It is difficult to detect ownership, unless an individual uses a watermark for his or her images. Sometimes, production companies or retailers use people’s images to extend their marketing campaigns without seeking consent. A common scenario is when an Instagram user posts a photo that features a particular product, for example, Clark’s shoes, and then puts a hashtag with the product name (#Clarks). When the company’s Instagram team receives the notification, they share the image on their wall without consulting the original poster. As a result, they monetize the person’s image through their social media product promotion. Fortunately, the UAE has a legal mechanism in place for regulating social media activity. It recognizes the sanctity of every person’s private life. The Federal Law No. 5 of 2012 prohibits the publication of other people’s pictures without their consent. This protects people whose photographs have been used on sites with sexual content and allows them to pursue justice.
Ideally, when a person creates an image, he or she owns its copyright. If he or she foresees a legal battle, it is necessary to have the picture in the government records. However, it is easy to defend one’s image on social media. If any Facebook or Instagram user reposts that his or her image was published without the owner’s consent, he or she has the right to demand to remove the image. Instagram spearheads this principle with a copyright report form, which users can utilize to report pictures or videos that violate their copyrights. Commercial organizations are not the only perpetrators of copyright infringement. Repost accounts on Instagram also play a role in spreading people’s content around social media. However, sometimes users want their images reposted, only in specific accounts with many followers, so that they can also get a following. People may use Instagram for fame, and, consequently, they may want others to use their work. This creates confusion since most users treat reposting and sharing other people’s images as a culture, and they do it with no ill motives.
The law cannot provide adequately for all the possible cyber-crimes that may happen, especially because people keep inventing new methods every day. The decisions on whether one should use other people’s photographs is a question of ethics, and it should be based on laws, regulations, and common sense. Immanuel Kant’s moral philosophy dwells on a principle of morality and rationality, which he called the “categorical imperative” (CI). According to Kant, human beings should always be rational despite an inclination to do the contrary. In the case of using other people’s images without their consent, such actions are immoral and irrational, and, therefore, they violate the CI. The instrumental principle, in this case, is that human beings should respect each other and have regard for dignity. Kant believed in applying common sense when making moral judgments. The process includes the concepts of goodwill and duty. In the case where cyber criminals use the images of innocent people to spread sexual innuendos, they violate all the aforementioned moral principles. They lack dignity for humanity and deserve to face the law. In addition, ethics demands that people should begin with an analysis of the matter at hand. One should consider the impact that sharing or downloading another person’s information from the media will have. What is considered to be good in one situation may be harmful in another. For instance, reposting the pictures of one’s follower on Instagram may help him or her get the fame that they desire. On the other hand, if a brand uses a client’s photograph, it may spark a conflict. Seeking the owner’s consent is always the best option when one is at crossroads.