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Tenderlysharp

Coercive School Photos

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My kid came home with a package of school photos.  There is a note with a price list that says: choose the photos you want, and send a check, and send back what you don't want.  The package includes a calendar, book marks, key chains with my son's picture on them, 21 photos all together for $36.  I don't like the photos, the photographer doesn't do a good job.  

My kid doesn't understand why I am upset, he is taking it personally, and will be embarrassed to return to school with them, saying his mom doesn't want photos of him.    

I didn't give them permission to do this.  I also don't want to send the photos back, because I don't want them having photos of my kid.  What are they going to do with them?  Its such a waste and I just want to burn them.  We take natural fun photos with our phones all the time, we don't need these.  

Should doing business this way be illegal?    

I would appreciate any recommendations on what I ought to say to the photographer, the school, or a higher official.  

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If I remember right, our school would usually send a note beforehand, telling parents that a certain day was picture day. The idea being that the kids should dress accordingly. 

The main thing you're going to address here is your son's embarrassment at not doing what his classmates are doing,.

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Refuse the photos, burn them even.  If anyone complains, ask them to produce the signed contract where you agreed to having those photos taken.  They'll try to bullshit you.  Stand firm and remember that you're protecting your child and yourself against predators.

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You should carefully scrutinize your contract with the photographer, in particular the part where you promised to return photos that you didn’t want and pay for the one you did. Oh, wait, there was no such contract. In other words, they took pictures, gave them to your child, and hoped that by handing it to a minor, they could get a binding contract with an adult.

It’s not clear to me exactly which part you’re objecting to (there is plenty to object to). Obviously the fact that the pictures were taken can’t be changed, nor can you change the fact that the school allowed / encouraged this activity. If this is a government school, there is no contract between you and the school so no implicit “you agreed”. It is marginally possible that a private school contract would have some clause about school photos and your obligations therein. So you have no legal obligation to return the pictures or to pay for them. Is there anything that you actually want from them? For example, do you want better photos? Do you not want to pay?

I suggest that you write a simple letter to the photographer acknowledging receipt of the photos, reminding them that they did not have your permission to take the pictures, and pointing out that you did not agree to return the photos or to pay for them: handing them to a minor child is a risk that they have to assume. It may be worth saying what you do not like about the pictures, though be clear that you are not interested in a retake (if that is the case). You could also mention (if it is true) that you will be separately raising questions with the school board, regarding the legality of taking your child’s picture without permission. You might mention that your understanding is that when one takes a non-public picture of a person for profit, they are legally required to obtain consent from the subject (or the parent, in the case of a minor). This is known as the "right of publicity" or "personality right". Then I would express my objections to the school board, or the state board of education. There may be specific laws surrounding photographing a student on school property (I haven't looking into that for Utah). Bear in mind that you may have unwittingly signed a release form earlier in the year, so they may respond with a copy of a form that you signed that has "school pictures" included in it.

Unfortunately, there is nothing effective and immediate that you can do about the juvenile culture that you find yourself embedded in. If schools (at the adult institutional level and at the juvenile student level) “want” everybody to participate, then everybody either participates, or faces social opprobrium for not complying.

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Why not talk to some of the other parents, see what they think? Maybe they agree with you, and you can work together to make sure spending parents' money without asking first doesn't become a habit.

But I would definitely pay, this time. There's no reason to embarrass your kid over it. There's also no reason to get upset about it. It's not exactly a big deal.

14 hours ago, Tenderlysharp said:

Should doing business this way be illegal?

I seriously doubt the guy goes around photographing children out of the blue, and then asking to be paid for it. The school or a teacher obviously contracted him to do this job. In fact they probably went to him, not the other way around. And if you don't pay for the photos, the school (or whichever teacher arranged this) will have to pay for it themselves.

 

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Schools have contracted companies to take these types of photographs for at least 20 years, since when I was in grade school. I'm amazed they still do with a smartphone in every pocket. I can't remember if a release was required or not, but if not I doubt they need it, given the length of time they've been at their business racket model.

Even in my day, it was not a big deal socially whether a kid kept the photos or not. My brother worked for one of these companies for a short while, and says they tried taking good photos to increase the chance of purchase, but still, non-purchase was about 20%. If the kid is known to be "poor" by his peers, they'd whisper about that being the reason, but maybe that was just my school.

If you're the parent who is going to make a stink about photographs without consent, your child may as well get used to it. 😆 If one of your goals is to prevent your child's embarrassment, I'd just forget about that. Parents are inherently embarrassing to some children, and how prone your child is to embarrassment is more or less out of your control.

Finally, these school photographs are one of the best things about public school. It's something different/fun-ish for kids to do for part of a day. There is a list of longterm-damaging/horrific things that are inherent with public schools, and this sits at about #178.

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The right of publicity was mentioned.

The laws regarding right of publicity vary from state to state, but the right of publicity does not seem to pertain in this case.

The right of publicity pertains mainly to a likeness being used for publication or public display in connection with commercial products or services. Most ordinarily, a likeness being used in an advertisement and that kind of thing. Taking a photo and then attempting to sell a print of it to the subject of the photo is not a right of publicity matter.

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You don't say whether the school is trying to obligate you to buy photos, though some of the posters here have taken your statement that way. A straightforward refusal (put it in writing) would probably get around such a claim. Otherwise a lawyer could tell you more. (Save anything the school gave you in writing. It might come in handy.) If the school or the photographer publishes the photo without your permission you probably have a case.

Apart from that you're afraid of hurting your son if you don't buy the pictures. Do you know for a fact that your refusal would hurt him? One solution would be to tell him that he's better-looking than the photos show and that's why you don't like them. If that doesn't work you could buy a few to humor him.

 

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I appreciate the time each of you has taken to respond.  Writing it out and engaging like this is helping to clarify it in my mind.

1 hour ago, Reidy said:

You don't say whether the school is trying to obligate you to buy photos

I can send the 21 photos back without buying, technically it seems like no obligation... the obligation is in the emotional manipulation.  The garbage waste of so many printed photos is weird; when I was a kid, having your photo taken was a luxury.  A photo of your child is a sentimental treasure, even if he is making a loopy face, it sucks throwing them out.  It is awkward confronting the photographer, and the school, the time spent doing so, and my son being in the middle of it.  You never know who is someones relative, I shouldn't care, but small town drama sometimes bleeds down to the kids.  I also don't mind picture day in general, I am buying him a year book, I just don't like the way they are going about it.  If I complain they might not take his photo at all.  Thinking of burning them is a symbol of rebellion to the whole situation. 

Maybe it is a risk the photographer wants to take. I know from working for a couple years reproducing fine art, the material cost is probably $3-$5. They can recoup their cost if 20% of parents are susceptible (or interested) enough to pay, which is easier than raising a stink, especially when you don't have a philosophical foundation to consider.  

At his last school in Salt Lake City, the photographer had three shots, several backgrounds and a variety of sizes to choose from, they were available for order online before printing.  

Working to make picture day at school more objective is not as challenging as taking on the big problems of the world...

3 hours ago, Reidy said:

buy a few to humor him.

I don't know... maybe I will take him down to the river for a photo shoot and print some good ones out myself.  

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If photographers asked whether parents want photos, for price $ XYZ, they would get less revenue. That's the basic assumption under which they operate. Photographers used to do this at certain tourist destinations too -- though, for the past many years they have not needed to print them out. So, they send them home, assuming that parents will go mushy seeing their kid's photo, and will buy. 

Very often, the school -- usually the P.T.A. has a motivation too. Since many photographers would like to get this business, the P.T.A. will sometimes do a deal with one of them, and get something from the photographer in exchange. 

I think a lot of parents buy them because it's a tradition that they had when they were kids. We never bought these for our kid -- maybe the first time, and not after that (memory fades). 

I think our school asked parents to sign releases, and (presumably, because I always gave permission) kids photos would not appear -even in the year-book as part of a group -- if permission was not granted.

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23 hours ago, Reidy said:

Otherwise a lawyer could tell you more. (Save anything the school gave you in writing.

If there's one thing I'm certain about in all this, it's that it should not involve any lawyers. It's not a legal issue, it's an issue that should be dealt with by people talking to each other.

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