A Right to Privacy at Seminars?

So, let’s open a can of worms and ask the question: Is there a right of privacy for clients and others attending an event you are webcasting or videotaping? That is, can you include shots of the audience, broadcast their questions and capture their image (whether intentional or not) without seeking their express permission?

In my view, there is no right of privacy in this setting and permission is not expressly required. That said, there are some things you can and should do to ensure no one complains. Also, quite apart from the privacy rights issue, any video shot or broadcast and used for commercial purposes may indeed require some form of notice to attendees or even a release/consent form.

First, let’s talk about privacy rights in a seminar, workshop or other similar setting. I’ve had this discussion recently with a treasured client that wanted to ensure there would be no shots showing audience members (even the backs of heads) and no broadcast of the Q&A portion of the program. Why? The client believed there were “privacy rights” at stake. Well, no, there are not. Seminars, workshops and the like are public or invitational events, and there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in attending the event or asking questions in public. Yes, privacy legislation in Canada does control organizations collecting “personal information” and information that might specifically identify people, but there are exemptions for information that is publicly available. When you walk into a store and your image is captured on closed-circuit cameras, for example, you have no legal right to object to the collection of that information (though, Canada’s Privacy Commissioner doesn’t like CCTV cameras that capture passersby outside the store). While purely aesthetic reasons for keeping people’s heads bobbing in and out of shots are absolutely correct, there is no legal basis in my view for concern about privacy.

Next, though, let’s think about the fact that a webcast or video capture of an event is for commercial purposes. During my career as a journalist, I didn’t have to worry much about this since newsgathering is typically considered non-commercial and exempted from such restrictions. A corporate event, however, is commercial in nature (even though it’s often framed as an educational occasion). In this regard, there are some concerns that could be raised by clients or others attending who might object to the use of their image for a commercial purpose, such as post-event replays for other clients. It’s not unusual, for example, to see TV shows pixelate corporate logos on T-shirts or business signage to avoid claims for misappropriation of image.

Short of getting a written consent from every audience member captured on camera, there are some precautions organizations can take:

  • Post a General Notice: Near the seminar entrance or on the sign-in table, post a notice stating prominently: “This event will be videotaped and/or webcast”.
  • Announce Before Event Begins: Before the proceedings get underway or during the moderator’s introduction, tell audience members that the proceedings are being taped or broadcast, and to keep that in mind when asking questions or moving about the facility.
  • Implied Consent Notice: Better yet, do as some seminar companies do and include a notice in the sign-up materials or Web page for the event. Here’s an example adapted from one seminar provider: “Videotaping Policy: During this event, ABC Company will be videotaping and broadcasting. Most likely, you will be filmed, recorded or photographed as part of the audience. By your attendance, you grant permission to be videotaped, audiotaped or photographed for commercial purposes and agree to the following: being recorded, filmed, videotaped, or photographed by any means; commercial or any other use of your likeness, voice and words without compensation; specifically waiving all rights of privacy during the videotaping, filming, recording¬† or photographing and releasing ABC Company from liability for loss, damage, or compensation from the commercial or other use of your likeness, image, voice or word.
  • Raise the Cameras or Fix it in Post-Production: The solution we have hit on that works best is to raise the cameras to a height where the audience is not visible (about 7 ft. or so). There is still a small chance that someone will stand up or walk by a speaker (particularly speakers who remain seated at a table), but we are usually able to switch to a different camera for 10-15 seconds or edit it out later. The one downside to this approach is that you are restricted in the types of camera shots available. For example, with no wide shots of the audience, you can choose from only a few different shots of the speakers.

It’s a complex issue, but with some precautions, you can safely and effectively deliver your event through the Web and recorded video.

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