murder case, newspaper posts Facebook photos of suspect and victim - too tabloidy, or public domain?

Where I live, there’s currently an ongoing domestic-murder case (ex-husband “suspected” of killing ex-wife, but after a shootout he had with police the day after the murder - you gotta figure they’ve got the right guy).

The local paper ran pictures of both the victim and the suspect, that they stole (is that the right word?) from each participant’s Facebook page - which they presumably found from whatever sources/connections/investigative tools that they might have.

(Both people have a pretty common name, so if you just typed them into Facebook, you’d be “lucky” to stumble into the correct ones).

I hope to not get too much into the pros/cons of Facebook (I know there’s the whole sarcastic “what’s Facebook?? never heard of it” contingent) - but anyone with a modicum of technical ability can figure out how to post things visible to your Friends only.

But suppose the two people involved had been somewhat lax in their privacy settings, and now the newspaper reporter goes to the respective Facebook pages, and pulls multiple photos to insert right into the middle of the story.

Does this not seem a little bit sleazy (and I guess I’m speaking more in terms of the murder victim - perhaps the perpetrator deserves no respect of privacy)? Or once you post those photos online (in any context) - I guess maybe they just become public domain, for anyone to use for any purpose whatsoever?

Posting things (including photos) online by itself does not make them public domain. If it did, then the latest Hollywood movies would be public domain once they had been posted (illegally) on the Net, and all the content of your newspaper would be public domain once that newspaper had been posted (legally), either for free or for subscription. Putting photos on Facebook does not make them public domain.

Would a screenshot of the Facebook page be considered fair use?

News reporting is one of the situations explicitly mentioned in the fair use section of US copyright law.

Absolutely does not apply to photos. One of the rules of fair use is that you use a small part of the material. Any recognizable part of a photo is too much to qualify. E.g., if a newspaper tries to print a wire service photo but isn’t a subscriber to that particular service, they are in trouble. The wire services rely on copyright protection to exist.

There is no such thing as “public domain” for recently created works anymore. (US Govt. works are freely copyable, but not public domain.) No one has even figured out how to put something into the public domain under the current copyright laws!

So those photos taken off of Facebook are not public domain. The newspaper officially had to ask permission to use them. But a lot of companies just do it anyway since the penalty is trivial. Unless the owner registered with the US copyright office, it’s not worth hiring a lawyer to get paid for the use. The best you can do is file a complaint to get them to stop using it.

The “standards” that used to apply to newspapers have disappeared.

Well its not quite that easy.

Are you sure there is no photo of you available to the world in facebook ?
What about photos that are shared by someone else, and have you tagged in them ?
I look at the local “missing persons” list, and go to the facebook entry, and see if there’s anything there. I notice that often the pages ARE locked down, but there are few timeline entries or photos visible… Perhaps the tagged photos from someone else, or the “profile” photo or photos. I never found any useful info so far :(.

(I found a dead persons family… They were meant to be in one town , "help me find Mr X Y 's family, he was from town Z ",but I found the deceased and his relatives were buried in a tiny town not far away but in the next state… which explains why they were missing from state records… :slight_smile: )

I don’t think it’s as absolute as you suggest. I found this article that discusses the issue at length (PDF link). It mentions several situations where a newspaper publishing a photo probably counts as fair use (though it’s far from clear cut and courts are very inconsistent in their decisions).

There is nothing in copyright law that says any recognizable part of a photograph is too much to qualify as fair use. It’s true that the amount of copied material is an important factor, but generally speaking it’s more about whether or not the amount copied was necessary for the intended use.

An example given in the PDF where fair use almost certainly does apply, would be a newspaper publishing an embarrassing photo that was posted to Twitter or Facebook by a public figure. In that case the photograph is the news, and it’s exactly the sort of thing fair use is intended to protect. The OP’s example is a lot less clear cut, but the newspaper still has a reasonable fair use argument in the circumstances.

The primary reason they can’t claim fair use on wire photos is that it’d be a blatantly obvious case of simply avoiding the licensing fees. Wire services offer a straightforward way to obtain permission. In a case like the OP, seeking permission is difficult or impossible.