Would it be legal for me to download all of the student images that appear in my university's directory and post them on a website?

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) protects students' education records such that an institution may only release information found in a student's records with permission of the student.

However, the one exception is directory information; institutions are free to release a student's directory information unless the student explicitly restricts its access.

Since the university has given me access to the directory information some of its students, doesn't that imply that these students have not restricted access to their information and that I may freely partake?

  • If it is publically posted on their site, they probably have a copyright on the material. Insofar as you abide copyright law, you wouldn't be able to use the photos without permission.
    – Andrew
    Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 20:25

2 Answers 2


As someone who is not a lawyer, but is familiar with FERPA and university policies as a former instructor, I would be more than willing to bet that you signed or otherwise agreed to some type of Terms of Service before being given access to that type of service. There are almost certainly numerous things you signed to become a student, as well as various policies you agreed to in first gaining access to the computer services, which would apply here.

I can tell you with certainty that the school where I was a student had a policy that I agreed to that they would make certain information available to other students unless I chose for it to be restricted. However, my university did not have any photos of students that were viewable by other students in a directory.

That said, there were also times I participated in extra-curricular activities where I was required to sign release forms giving the school the rights to video tape, record, and photograph me, and to do what they wished with those things. So, with that in mind, I suspect that's partly due to FERPA restrictions, but also largely due to their own privacy policies that go beyond what FERPA requires. All in all, I doubt they would be okay with you using their photos for your own private use - student privacy is something that is taken very seriously.

  • I would be more than willing to bet that you signed or otherwise agreed to some type of Terms of Service before being given access to that type of service. ...But not in the case of directory information, which can be (and often is) public. Commented Aug 8, 2015 at 0:54

Even if the records are "public" someone has a copyright on those photos -- normally either whoever took the photos, or possibly the employer of that person. Permission from the copyright holder would be needed for you to copy the photos and place them on a different site. Unless the directory site explicitly grants a license which permits such reuse, you would need to obtain such permission directly.

Each individual would have personality rights in his or her image. If the image is being used to sell or advertise goods or services, a release from the subject would probably be needed -- this varies from state to state.

The FERPA regulations do list a photograph as one of the elements of 'directory information". (CFR Chapter 34 part 99 section "definitions".) But even if these images are not protected under FERPA, they may be protected under state privacy laws.

I would strongly suggest that you consult a lawyer knowledgeable in this area, including privacy law and FERPA in your jurisdiction before going ahead with any such project. This answer is not legal advice.

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