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On day one of my first year in high school me and basically every other students were given a few documents to sign. One of them included a clause that allowed the school to publish pictures of us doing activities on the school website. Back then I was not that privacy-conscious and my homeroom teacher pressured us to quickly sign all of them so I did. I don't remember anyone questioning the reasoning behind the clause.

After more than a decade past graduation, the school website appeared in my search results so I took a look. I found some pictures of me and some of them were embarrassing and/or really cringe. I would rather have them removed so I contacted the school and politely asked for the removal of about a dozen photos. They declined, citing the document that everyone signs.

Does the school really have rights to the photos for eternity? Does the CCPA or COPPA provide any protection for me in this case? Had I been an EU resident, could I have invoked GDPR and have the photos removed without hassle?

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    "Does the school really have rights to the photos for eternity?" This depends on where the school is.
    – phoog
    Jul 30, 2023 at 10:33
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    Location matters. I have to approve or not whether the school district can use photos of my minor children publically.
    – mkennedy
    Jul 30, 2023 at 13:44
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    @bdb484 in Germany, Kids can't sign those documents, but the parents can - and bind their kids to the release even after those turn 18.
    – Trish
    Jul 30, 2023 at 20:55
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    @trish Very interesting, and very much at odds with common-law principles. Goes to show his important it is for users to specify a jurisdiction.
    – bdb484
    Jul 30, 2023 at 21:06
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    If this would have been in the EU, the GDPR is then relevant, and according to the GDPR you can revoke your permission to allow them to use your data at any time (even one minute after signing the agreement). Not posting as answer because I only answer the least relevant question.
    – user132647
    Jul 31, 2023 at 14:41

5 Answers 5

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There are not enough facts to draw a conclusion

First, it’s not clear that the document you signed amounts to a contract. For example, what consideration did the school give you in return for the permission you gave them? Providing you with an education doesn’t count - they were legally obliged to do that already.

If it is a contract then whether and how it can be revoked would depend on the terms of that contract witch I’m guessing you don’t have a copy of. Notwithstanding, as a minor, you have the right to void the contract until a reasonable time after you turn 18. Even if it is now many years since that happened, it might be reasonable since you only just discovered the website.

If it isn’t a contract, then it would be revocable at any time.

Practicalities

Make a fuss and they may take the photos down even if they are not obliged to. They presumably have plenty of photos of kids who aren’t you and aren’t complaining and if you make it so it’s easier to change the website than to deal with you, thy’ll change the website.

I suspect their inertia is because they once paid a web developer to create the site, it has never since been updated, they don’t know how to do it, and they don’t want to have to pay someone to find out. Otherwise, why would they have photos of ex-students rather than current students? If so, an offer by you to cover the costs, might solve your problem.

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    "If so, an offer by you to cover the costs, might solve your problem." - In a very unfair sort of way, it might. It's not the OP's fault the school pressured minors into signing a consent form, nor is it the OP's fault that the school doesn't know how to maintain its website. There's really no ethical basis for the OP to be on the hook for the cost of removing the photos.
    – aroth
    Aug 2, 2023 at 2:55
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    "Otherwise, why would they have photos of ex-students" err, to show their alumni photos? Example
    – Andrew T.
    Aug 2, 2023 at 3:20
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The first question is, is the school required to obtain your consent. The answer is highly jurisdiction-dependent. California is very protective of the individual's personality right and there are specific statutes that define this right. Alaska does not recognize "right of publicity" even on common law grounds, but Ohio does recognize a common law right of publicity. Idaho recognizes a general right of privacy, but no published ruling has recognized a right of publicity that would require consent to photograph a person in a public place.

Washington statutorily recognizes the right of publicity. That right is "freely transferable, assignable, and licensable, in whole or in part, by contract or inter vivos transfer". However, permission is not required in case of "matters of cultural, historical, political, religious, educational, newsworthy, or public interest, including, without limitation, comment, criticism, satire, and parody". Therefore defendants could argue that permission is not required. If we assume that there was contractual licencing of the right of publicity, the question is whether the contract can not be repudiated. RCW 26.28.030 says that

A minor is bound, not only by contracts for necessaries, but also by his or her other contracts, unless he or she disaffirms them within a reasonable time after he or she attains his or her majority, and restores to the other party all money and property received by him or her by virtue of the contract, and remaining within his or her control at any time after his or her attaining his or her majority.

You could have repudiated that agreement some years ago, but that reasonable time has passed.

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    There is the question of whether a contract existed in the first place. Meeting of the minds, lack of coercion, and mutual consideration are all elements that can be challenged. Jul 31, 2023 at 0:22
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    It's not necessarily an educational use just because it's a school. Unless the photo of OP is in some way instructive of itself, it would not fall under that exception.
    – A. R.
    Jul 31, 2023 at 14:36
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Depending on jurisdiction, the right to any picture of you may be yours. Some countries allow taking and publishing pictures of you, as long as you are in public or on the picture taker's private property.

However, you explicitly gave them permission to take pictures and use your pictures.

Assuming they do indeed show you on school ground doing school activities, there is little you can do.

The only option you may have is your age when signing. You said it was in school, so if you were very young, you may have a case where your consent is actually not valid, because you were to young to realize what that specific thing you signed meant.

To find out whether this might be a loophole, contact a local lawyer that knows your jurisdiction's age restrictions on consenting to specific things and tell them the details including your age at the time this was signed.

On the "technically not about the law, but still a solution" side, you can have that lawyer write the school a letter. Sometimes, a lawyer's letterhead on a real piece of paper does way more than any legal construct or email that may come in. They may not want to find out whether they are right, when avoiding legal problems can be as easy as removing a picture.

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    "Pressured us to sign" is potentially another angle that may invalidate the supposed permission (or at least, that the school may not want to be examined too closely!)
    – psmears
    Jul 31, 2023 at 11:44
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They declined, citing the document that everyone signs.

Ask to see their copy of the release that you signed. Since this was some number of years ago, I'd wager that they don't actually have it. If they don't have a signed release form, then they can't claim that as the basis to use your photo. "Trust us, you signed a release at one point" isn't a legally-valid argument.

If they can somehow produce the release form, it should have a date on it. You'll be able to calculate your exact age at that time and evaluate whether you were legally capable of entering into that sort of contract according to the laws of your particular locale (typically 18 in the US).

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  • The OP indicated that they were a freshman in high school, so if this is the U.S. they weren't. Aug 2, 2023 at 19:27
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At least in the United States, False Light is a tort (claim) you can make. Unlike defamation, the statements are factual, but portray a misleading impression of the person.

So if they are representing you in a cringe way, you could have a cause for action.

Note that they would have a defense if you are actually cringe. :)

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