My Straight Dope question!! Blurred faces on tv shows.--edited title

Why is it that sometimes peoples faces on T.V. are blurred and sometimes they are not? On news programs I never see the faces in the background blurred but while I’m watching various reality shows (don’t judge) its hit or miss if the people in the background are blurred. Do state laws vary on this? Do programs have to have permission to show someone’s face?? HELP!!

Thanks again


The rules are consistent. People can film anyone in a public place for a news program, so there’s no reason to blur faces.

For a reality show, the issue is a bit less clear. To be safe, the producers may ask those in the background to sign releases; if they can’t get the release – or don’t want to bother – they will blur the faces. However, if it were taken to court, if the bystanders are in a public place, then they can be photographed: you don’t need releases for crowd scenes in movies.

Ask a mod to change the hed so more people will answer you!!

Reported to have title changed to be made [del]more[/del] descriptive.

If someone shows up in the background on a for-profit TV series, and did not sign a release, then they may demand the same compensation as anyone else who’s paid to appear in the series. Reality shows are essentially for profit entertainment. Same logic appears for brand names, artwork, etc. Pathetically, I think it was Idol or Apprentice where they are walking through an office or home with fancy art on the walls and the art is blurred.

Recall that one fan in the crowd sued the Beatles for using the roar of a Wembley Statdium crowd (Sgt. Pepper album?) He lost, but it did go to court.

Did not used to be so. One relative of mine appeared briefly walking past Kojak in downtown NYC in one episode.

OP is right though. Sometimes faces in public are blurred, sometimes they are not.

[cousin vinnie] Yo, you either sign da release or we’re gonna have to blur yer face, capiche? [/cv]

Any Letterman fans remember the peach lady?! Although it was printed right on the tickets that your visage may be broadcast she still threatened to sue. Settled out of court.

This is great. Cite?

Raw footage of an event in a public place can be shown unedited if it meets a test of “news and information value”, But similar footage shown merely for entertainment and proft is subject to a stricter definition of a presumption of privacy.

I always thought that when a movie or TV show is filmed on a busy street, the street is closed down and everybody appearing in the crowd is an extra. Is this not the case? I would think that it they didn’t close the area down when shooting, there would be groups of people standing around watching the filming, staring into the camera, etc.

Apparently in a lot of cases, they let people walk by in the distance, especially in a crowded city. Maybe a major motion picture can shut down Times Square, but I suppose all a minor series can do for street shots is try to limit “odd” behaviour by passersby in the distance. I recall one L&O episode where they were in the park in front of City Hall, and you could tell a couple in the background were rubbernecking behind the fence and a crew guy is walking over to tell them to move on. Obviously they use extras for anything more than a walk-by.

(when they were filming a school bus scene for Black Christmas many many years ago in front of Hart House, UofT, there were several people I know were trying to get to class and told they could walk by provided they did not stop or look at the camera. “Just act normal”.

It is a tort in most states to use a person’s image or likeness for commercial purposes:

Even though the news is a commercial enterprise, it has protections in the 1st amendment and can report on happenings in the public. So if that was you walking at the corner of 5th and main the background while someone was being interviewed for the news, well, that’s just reporting.

If it’s you in the background of 5th and main while filming a reality show, they are using your likeness for a commercial purpose (arguably) and you can sue them for damages.

So, your face is blacked out in the latter and not in the former.