Ea Shoushtari, a student in Jon Pfeiffer’s Spring 2014 Mass Communication Law class at Pepperdine University, wrote the following essay in response to the prompt: “While in class you take a photo of a fellow student on Snapchat. You write a mean spirited caption and draw on the image. You send it out to all your Snapchat contacts hoping to get a laugh. You notice a few people have taken a screen shot of your photo, but you don’t think much of it. The next day you see the Snapchat you sent is now posted on Facebook, and by the end of the week the administration at your school has the photo and you’re being called into the disciplinary board. What rights do you have? Can this photo get you into trouble with your school? With the law?”
With this specific situation, it is kind of hard to know what exactly should happen because of the many factors that take place in this situation. For one, me taking the photo of the student isn’t exactly where the problem occurs. Classrooms are considered to be public places, and I don’t need permission to take someone’s photo in a public place. The classmate doesn’t know that I’ve taken the photo nor put it on Snapchat which can be a problem or questionable. I’m technically protected under the First Amendment under freedom of speech because the photo was taken in a public place. Yes, it’s the law, but there are always some exceptions to every law. The student I took the photo of probably didn’t expect it to end up on Facebook without their permission, and neither did I.
Getting into trouble with the school is completely under their discretion. If they feel that I’ve violated any school rules, then they have the right to discipline me for the actions I’ve committed. I can legally argue that I wasn’t using the photo for any commercial use or profit, and therefore I shouldn’t get it trouble with the law. I added ill-intended captions to the photo, which may cause for some backlash. Considering that these captions paint this person in a false light, and ultimately ended up on Facebook can result in myself taken to civil court if they really wanted to, With every action I take, consequence comes with it. It isn’t the fact that I took the picture of the student; it is more so that it went on a social network without the individual’s permission, which can be a problem. You aren’t able to post anything without an individual’s permission. If it does happen, certain laws come into play where you can ultimately get in trouble for this.
This topic is really interesting because I tend to take pictures of people in public if I see something funny about them or something along those lines, but I don’t put them on social networks. I more so just share them with my friends.
Ea Shoushtari is a student at Pepperdine University majoring in public relations.
Jon Pfeiffer is an experienced entertainment and copyright trial attorney practicing in Santa Monica. Jon is also an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California where he teaches Media Law. COM 570 covers First Amendment issues as well as copyright, defamation and privacy.