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Image rights and what to consider

personal law

A right to information and a right to an image

More and more photographers are approached on the street and hindered in their work, even if it's just a matter of taking pictures of houses. You can imagine what happens when it comes to a rest area or a restaurant terrace. The subject is vast, but it is necessary to specify certain aspects of it. While there is no specific law governing the work of photographers, three framework laws must be considered:

Freedom of the media and information is guaranteed: (Art. 16 and 17 of the Federal Constitution) .

Protection of private property

In theory, this means that you must have permission from the owner or their agent to work on their property. If this seems clear for a shopping center or an industrial company, it remains very random for the courtyard of a rental building or agricultural land where public access is possible.

The right to personal and family privacy

Article 28 SR 210 of the Swiss Civil Code protects every person against unlawful violation of his personality by the state, another person or a medium. Article 179 SR 311 of the Swiss Criminal Code condemns the violation of secret or private areas, for example using a camera. He defines privacy as an area that “not just anyone can invade”. This briefly for the theory. Nor will we forget a certain number of jurisprudence (particularly of the Federal Supreme Court) pertaining to particular cases. In practice, taking into account various legal opinions published in various media, we can consider the following:

• Images of everyday life captured in the public domain are safe if the people who appear in them are not belittled by an ambiguous or out-of-context attitude. There can also be private situations in the public sphere.

• Examples:

a) If it is possible to photograph people in a public park, we will ask the lovers on a bench for permission.

b) If it can be funny to see an athlete with their buttocks exposed, we will not take the picture out of context and we will not reuse the picture under any circumstances.

• Pictures taken from the private sphere of public and official figures are permitted according to the interest they arouse in the public.

• Pictures taken from people's private sphere are illegal.


Particular care must be taken to protect children. The identities of the children of celebrities must be protected if they are not involved (example: if Roger Federer attends a match accompanied by his two daughters, they will of course be photographed to everyone's delight; but if a minister goes to a restaurant with his son , there is no reason to depict the latter in the newspaper). In general, one has to beware of the paranoia that afflicts certain teachers and politicians about pictures taken in schools. This aspect of our society is one of the most beautiful stages of life and it is absurd to exclude it or to hide faces like criminals. Events:

The European Federation of Journalists (FJF) notes with concern that professional photojournalists working at important artistic, cultural, political or sporting events are facing increasing restrictions. The EFJ is particularly concerned about the pressure put on photographers to sign abusive contracts. As a matter of principle, professional photographers respect the protection of human dignity in everyday events as well as on the occasion of tragedies and catastrophes.

archive images

Images of people published or republished in a different context with a legend taken out of context have sometimes caused problems. Image editors need to remain vigilant, but photographers need to remember to describe their images in more detail, especially when it comes to subjects.


A person who feels hurt can write to the editor-in-chief or the media intermediary. You can also contact the Press Council. The right of procedure before the ordinary courts is reserved.

We'll say it again

We stand for the right to take pictures, to provide information and to be contemporary witnesses. We can accept certain rules and we have professional ethics. Like our French colleagues, we will defend ourselves against those who want to limit this right through court decisions and introduce covert censorship.

Swiss Press Council

The Swiss Press Council is available to the public and media professionals as a complaints body for questions of media ethics. With his work, he should contribute to the reflection on fundamental media-ethical problems and thus stimulate media-ethical discussions in the editorial offices. Internet and privacy, statement by the Swiss Press Council Sept. 1, 2010: The media must not unrestrainedly disseminate private information from the Internet. More and more people are making private information and pictures publicly available on the Internet. But the mass media cannot deduce from this that these people willingly refrain from protecting their privacy. For the media, this means that they are not allowed to disseminate private information from the Internet without restrictions. The Complaints Authority for media ethics issues has taken up the topic of "Internet and privacy" on its own initiative. Because this new form of communication has now become so widespread that some are already talking about the end of the concept of "privacy". The question of whether it is permissible to disseminate or refer to information posted on the Internet has now become a central issue for media professionals in the exercise of their profession. The Press Council justifies its position with its previous practice: in relation to the Internet, public does not necessarily mean «media public». What is decisive - not only on the Internet - is the intention with which someone exposes themselves in public space. Depending on their content, information or images retain their private character despite being published on the Internet. In individual cases, journalists are therefore obliged to carefully weigh up which interest prevails: the public's right to information or a person's right to the protection of their private life. When considering this, it is crucial in which context information is placed on the Internet. Does the information appear on a social network such as Facebook or on an institutional website? Is the information intended more for a small group of addressees or for a broader public? Is the author a private person or publicly known? Media professionals must also ensure that one of the requirements for identifying reporting is met. The cases listed in guideline 7.2 to clause 7 of the "Declaration" in which attribution is permitted also apply on the Internet.

Source: Photo section imprint and Photojournalists January 2014

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