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Q: BLURRING OR PIXELATING A SUSPECT'S FACE ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   3 Comments )
Category: Relationships and Society > Law
Asked by: rambler-ga
List Price: $5.00
Posted: 17 Feb 2005 13:11 PST
Expires: 19 Mar 2005 13:11 PST
Question ID: 476151
Why do some TV programs blur the face of someone caught committing a crime?

For example, in programs like "Cops" or "Police Videos", police chase and catch
the person who has just obviously committed a crime, but that person's face
is blurred or pixelated.

Why?  Is there a law against showing the faces of such people?
Answered By: siliconsamurai-ga on 17 Feb 2005 13:42 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hi, thank you for submitting your question to Answers.Google, I hope I
can provide the information you are seeking.

I need to preface this by stating that I am a former PBS employee and
some of the information I am providing is from personal experience.

But, to the point, there is definitely a law, actually several laws,
but the most important one in this case is actually the one involved
with model releases:

First, unless the people involved sign a ?model release? you can?t
show their images in a way which actually identifies them clearly
unless you meet some rather vague conditions, none of which the
producers probably want to have adjudicated every few days.
	You can show images of crowds but not individuals in most circumstances.

Second, some of these individuals are later discovered to be juveniles
and it is illegal in most jurisdictions to give out any information
whatever about juveniles involved in any crimes, even if convicted,
unless they are adjudicated as adults.

Thirdly, there is the law of libel/slander which would open the
producers and possibly the stations showing the program to civil suit
because the presentation suggests strongly that the person shown has
done something criminal. The video you see is only a tiny amount of
that actually shot and the editing is designed to make the person
appear to be guilty and also to make things as exciting as possible.

The situation with surveillance videos shown from stores and such is
different because the store usually has a posted surveillance policy.

COPS and other similar programs not only need to cover their butts,
they must also abide by any special rules imposed by the local
jurisdictions and protect the stations which broadcast the images.

These contracts are extremely complex and vary from situation to situation.

For more information see:

Google search terms: COPS model release

Google search terms: COPS TV show

Thank you again for turning to Answers.Google for help I hope this
answers your specific question. As an aside, there is no such thing as
"obvious" when you are talking about either the law or the courts.

Request for Answer Clarification by rambler-ga on 17 Feb 2005 15:12 PST
Your answer makes perfect sense, and I thank you for such a quick response.

I'm a bit bewildered, though, because of "Question ID: 475646" from
someone who questioned 'photo permissions'.  The answer suggested that
it is ok to take a picture of anything in public, no permission

Can you comment on this?

Clarification of Answer by siliconsamurai-ga on 18 Feb 2005 04:33 PST
See below, I posted the clarification as a comment.
rambler-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
Very clear and compelling answer. Thank you!

From: capitaineformidable-ga on 18 Feb 2005 03:51 PST
Siliconsamurai makes a very good third point. There was an occasion
when I jumped nearly every red light between my home and the local
maternity hospital (with extreme vigilance). If I had been caught and
had already found guilty by television it could possibly have
influenced a court if I had decided to plead ?mitigating
Sometimes there is more than one side to a story which is not in the
interests of ?good television?.
From: siliconsamurai-ga on 18 Feb 2005 04:32 PST
Of course I am only commenting on U.S. law, and the situation varies
from place to place, but while it is perfectly permissible to
photograph virtually anything , anywhere, or was until the Patriot
Act, publishing that photo changes things.

Photographing a certain class of people, those who have become public
figures, is very simple, but when you single out an individual in a
crowd doing something illegal, or even which could cause embarrassment
- then put the image on a commercial TV program for entertainment
purposes, you open up yourself to being sued and almost certainly to
civil penalties.

That?s why you can photograph Paris Hilton doing virtually anything
and sell the photo, but can?t photograph Jane Doe doing the same
outrageous thing and not get sued unless she gives written permission.

Photographing someone doing a perp walk is fine, especially for
newscasts because you are just showing a matter of public record, i.e.
they have been arrested.

Similarly for photographing someone being tried or who has been convicted.

But showing images of someone and strongly suggesting that they are,
as you said, ?obviously? guilty can easily get you sued.

The bottom line is that these producers are not only protecting
themselves, they also have to protect all the independent stations
which purchase these syndicated shows AND their advertisers. When
faced with a grey area in the civil law, cautious TV producers take
the safe route.
From: expertlaw-ga on 24 Feb 2005 14:03 PST
Dear rambler,

It is axiomatic that the producers of the show are using pixelation or
similar technology to hide the faces of some individuals, out of
interest in protecting themselves from possible litigation.

I personally would be fascinated to learn what was meant by the
allusion to "rather vague conditions" which would permit a news agency
to broadcast recognizable images of a person without obtaining a model
release. All you have to do is watch the evening news, to realize that
news agencies routinely broadcast such footage under circumstances
where they could not possibly have obtained model releases. I would
also be fascinated to review some examples of the laws which would
prevent a news agency from broadcasting information about a juvenile
suspect at penalty of law, because at first blush it would seem that
such a statute would violate the First Amendment, and also because of
the many high profile cases (e.g., Nathaniel Abraham, Derek and Alex
King, Mitchell Johnson and Andrew Golden, etc.) in which the names and
pictures of juvenile criminal suspects were broadcast on the national

Libel and slander seem to be much less the issue than are torts
pertaining to invasion of privacy. The Forida Bar, through its Online
Media Center, has published a rather detailed article on those torts,
and how they can apply to even the publication of truthful

While I will grant that a news organization is safe from accusations
of invasion of privacy in broadcasting footage from a public
courthouse, there is no magic line between footage or pictures of a
crime being committed and footage or pictures broadcast post-arrest.
How many times did you see the Rodney King beating footage before any
charged were filed against the involved officers? How many times did
you see the subsequent beating of a truck driver by a mob, before
anybody was charged in connection with that incident. I would be
fascinated, also, to hear of any case where the editing of such
footage - for purposes of "excitement", as opposed to for purposes of
creating a false impression of the events depicted - created liability
where none existed before. And in terms of private versus public
figures, the real question here is of newsworthiness - while footage
of a private person doing some silly act might well form a basis for
accusation of "invasion of privacy", whereas footage of a celebrity
doing the same thing would be fair game, footage of that same person's
commission of a crime is qualitatively different as the subject matter
will ordinarily be newsworthy.

This 1999 transcript from Newshour with Jim Lehrer, available through
the PBS website, mentions some of the litigation which dramatically
changed the way some police shows comported themselves during
ride-alongs, due to successful "invasion of privacy" claims. Scroll
down about half-way to the headline, "Media ride-alongs".

Privacy issues can be magnified for people who just happen to be
present at a crime scene, particularly on a show like Cops, and it
seems that such shows are more likely to blur or pixelate bystander
faces. I would venture that shows like Cops, as much as possible, now
obtain releases from as many people as are willing to sign them,
suspect, witness, or bystander, just to play it safe.

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