The Legality of the Yearbook

As the end of the year approaches and the idea of my transience on the island becomes more and more apparent, I take comfort in the memories I have captured in the various embarrassing, heartwarming, and nostalgic photos. You may have repressed the memory of your freshmen year back-to-school dance, but fear not: someone, somewhere, has got a picture of that. Fortunately. So as our Facebook feeds become invaded with pictures of family styles and lazy afternoons spent lounging on the quad, take comfort in the fact that you are immortalized by pixels and likes and comments. If you prefer a more traditional medium, remember that you’ll also be remembered in The Confluence, our yearbook, though the overlap between their content and our social media seems to be widening.

I am a fan of yearbooks. I keep all of mine on a shelf, which I return to every so often to remind myself that at least my braces and middle part are gone. I recently took down my sophomore year edition (I’m a junior now), and it was fun to look back on events from last year and marvel at how many changes were made in a short period of time. What struck me most, though, was how many of the photos featured in The Confluence were mine, as in, taken by me.

I am not on the yearbook staff, though I really appreciate their commitment, diligence, and artistry. I know that their intent has never been to claim another’s work as their own, and their use of my and other students’ photos from Facebook is a negligible and easily solvable problem, one that can be fixed by awareness of intellectual property rights, which I’ll try to provide an overview of here.

We grant Facebook the license to display our content by uploading it. However, according to Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, uploaders still “retain the copyright to [their] content.” This means that although photos uploaded to Facebook might be available to one’s friends and to Facebook itself, the work is still the user’s, and should be credited as such.

Artists–and yes, even photos on Facebook are art–are protected legally in addition to by the Terms and Conditions that we quickly accept. The Visual Artist’s Rights Act affirms a right to claim one’s own art and request credit to be cited, regardless of where the art exists physically (or virtually!). Essentially, artists have a say in what their art is used for and when their name needs to be attributed to it. Similarly, Loomis students reserve the right to claim ownership of their selfies, no matter how ridiculous or how well-circulated online.

The best and simplest solution is to communicate. Yearbook staff should be required to ask for permission before taking photos from Facebook or other social media platforms, and photographers should be able to deny permission. As previously stated, I don’t see my photos in the yearbook as too much of a problem; in fact, had I had been asked, I would’ve gladly granted permission. Students need to realize, though, that the actions are intellectual property theft, and, technically, illegal. As a school the prides itself on academic integrity, the honor code, and the pledge, we should reflect this commitment in our extracurricular organizations, too. We should take this as an opportunity to express our understanding of an ideal that is important to the Loomis community.