(2019 May)

The Question

Is it illegal or otherwise wrong to photograph title-pages of student assignments to illustrate a magazine or website article, with publication dependent on consent from the school principal?

The Circumstances

This question arose during "Open Day" at Mount Carmel College (MCC) in the Religion room supervised by Assistant Principal Marianne Shaw.

One table displayed some single-sheet student assignments on the topic of kindness.

Nowhere was there a "No Photos Permitted" sign. Therefore I took two photos of the "Kindness" assignments to possibly illustrate a proposed future article in Investigator Magazine and its website about "The Bible on Kindness".

The large-print headings "KINDNESS" on the assignments would be readable in a magazine or website reproduction, the large drawing underneath the headings perhaps recognizable, the smaller print below the pictures not at all.

Marianne Shaw strolled over. She noted that the kindness assignments omitted students' names and therefore felt that taking the two photos is OK, but said I should ask the Principal regarding publishing them, which I agreed to do.

She enquired what the website is about. I told her that people debate various topics and that the Bible and Christianity have been defended for over 20 years.

The Encounter

Open Day finished and people were leaving.

Suddenly Assistant Principal Mrs Shaw popped up again.

She now wanted the two photos deleted immediately, and advised that permission from the Headmaster to use them to illustrate kindness could be sought afterwards. Of course if the photos were deleted there would be nothing to ask permission for, but Mrs Shaw was insistent.

What are the legalities?

Mentally I recalled an occasion years ago when people wanted me to hand over photos of them in my possession.  Legal advice obtained at the time was that the negatives and the prints belonged to me, not to the people photographed. Analogy with that previous advice implied that the two pictures I took belong to me and the request to delete could be ignored. College control would be retained by refusing permission to publish them.

A complicating factor is when photos are taken on private property. An information sheet on photography says:

In order to access a privately owned space you need permission from the landowner, and he or she has the right to impose restrictions on photography. Therefore, you may only be allowed to photograph certain objects or locations. This type of restriction is common in many museums, galleries and sporting grounds, and may occur on land owned by Councils. Even where the landowner allows you to photograph, keep in mind that he or she may not be the copyright owner in artistic works you might be photographing. In this case, you need the permission of the author of the artwork as well...
Educational institutions ... are considered to be private property...

I had never at other schools encountered objections to taking photographs. But I had also never before photographed the word "Kindness". Perhaps the nearest equivalent is photos taken at a school reunion, including names of "old scholars" engraved on paving stones.

The answer to my opening question gets murkier if we also consider copyright and whether parental consent, not merely Headmaster consent, would be necessary.

The Decision

Due to the legal uncertainties, and because MCC is a Christian school and the Christian Bible advocates peaceful relationships (James 3:17-18; Psalm 34:14), I decided to delete.

The College would miss an opportunity to help advocate kindness. But it promotes kindness in other ways, by raising funds for overseas missions, and running a Christmas Gift Appeal.

Deletion involves a number of steps which I can never remember. But after I started, Mrs Shaw worked out the rest and kindly completed the deletion.

Main article: Catholic Education and Mount Carmel College

       Kindness article: The Bible On Kindness