While the Duke of Cambridge’s request for global media to respect the privacy of his son, Prince George, has started a debate over the extent to which individuals in the UK can rely on legal measures to prevent the publication of intrusive photographs, the position is somewhat clearer in the United Arab Emirates with specific provisions of the UAE Copyright Law granting protection to persons who appear in photographs.
English law provides limited remedies for individuals who have been photographed in a public place. There may be scope for a harassment claim in relation to persistent or aggressive photography and there is a developing body of privacy law that incorporates the law of confidence, the Data Protection Act and the Human Rights Act. However, despite developments in case law and a range of high-profile reports into press behaviour in the UK, there remains no statutory privacy law and no stand-alone cause of action for “invasion of privacy” under English law.
Equally, there is no specific concept of “image rights” under English law. A person’s proprietary rights in a photograph or image of themselves under English law might be protected by some of the statutory or common law causes of action noted above, but enforcement is somewhat complicated and uncertain.
The position is clearer in the UAE. Federal Law No.7 of 2002 (the “UAE Copyright Law”) provides that a photograph featuring any person may not be kept, exhibited, published or distributed without the consent of the person appearing in the photograph. There are some exceptions: if the photograph was made during a public events; if it relates to an official or public person or celebrity; or if the publication was authorised by the public authorities as a service for public interest. However, in each case, the exhibition or circulation of the photograph must not prejudice the position of the person who is the subject of the photograph.
While this provides a clear cause of action for individuals who have been photographed in private circumstances, the broad scope of the UAE Copyright Law and certain provisions of the UAE Penal Code which require respect for a person’s private and family life have implications for social media and other non-commercial use of personal images. The UAE’s communications sector regulator, the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, has issued a series of white papers on different types of social media outlining the risks of posting or tagging individuals in photographs without their consent. There have also been recently reported examples of actions against individuals that have photographed certain locations without the requisite approvals (“no photography” signs are commonly seen around military installations and other sites in the UAE) or posted pictures of individuals without their authorisation.
Companies operating in the UAE should ensure that their employees, agents and contractors are aware of local laws to avoid liabilities in either a social or professional context. Photographs and other media used for marketing in any context – including social media, brochures and other collateral – should always be appropriately vetted and care should be taken to ensure that marketing departments and media agencies have cleared all relevant rights before images are used.