Every week, Student Press Law Center attorneys answer a frequently asked question about student media law in “Ask SPLC.” Q: Does FERPA prevent me from reporting on a fight that took place on my campus between two students? A: No. FERPA punishes schools that have a policy or practice of disclosing a student's education records without the… Continue reading Does FERPA prevent me from reporting on a fight between students at my school?
Q: Our school has a group of students on a “do not picture” list because parents did not approve photo releases. Does our publication have to cut out any photographs these students may appear in? A: Legally, the answer is probably no. The “do not picture list” applies to official publications of the school, and the… Continue reading Can we use photos of students on our school’s “do not picture” list?
Q: What is a “public forum for student expression?” A: A student publication is a public forum for student expression when school officials have given student editors the authority to make their own content decisions. This can be accomplished through an official policy or by simply allowing a publication to operate without interference from school officials.… Continue reading What is a “public forum for student expression?”
Q: Can I be punished for fighting censorship at my school? A: You cannot be punished for speaking out and expressing views opposing those of school officials unless you break laws or school rules in how you choose to fight the censorship. For example, if you organized or participated in a protest that included walking out of… Continue reading Can I be punished for fighting censorship at my school?
Q: Are student journalists allowed to claim reporter’s privilege to protect the identity of their sources? A: State reporter’s privilege laws allow journalists to withhold confidential newsgathering materials from the parties in a criminal investigation or a civil lawsuit. In most states, the shield applies to anyone who regularly gathers and distributes news to the public… Continue reading Can student journalists claim reporter’s privilege?
Q: Can the police or campus security search our newsroom to get unpublished photos, notes or videos? A: Almost never. The federal Privacy Protection Act makes it illegal for law enforcement officers or government officials to search a newsroom (or anywhere else that newsgathering materials are kept, such as the trunk of a reporter’s car)… Continue reading Ask SPLC: Can police search our newsroom?
Q: Can we post photos we take for the yearbook or newspaper on a social media page? A: If they are staff-generated photos and not photos taken by a private contractor, yes. A private photo studio will have contractual limits on how its photos can be used, and typically (without a substantial extra charge) they are licensed… Continue reading Ask SPLC: Can we use yearbook photos on social media?
A: It depends. First of all, it is a good idea for your publication to have a policy on takedown demands or retractions. Many publications have a policy that is some variation of stating that there will be no takedowns or retractions unless something in the article is false. It is important to keep in mind… Continue reading Ask SPLC: Am I obligated to take down an embarrassing story if the subject of it asks?
Q: If a source provides me with an illegally recorded conversation or other piece of documentation illegally obtained, can I use the information in my article? A: It depends. If you and your media outlet did not ask your source to obtain the material illegally or otherwise take part in its acquisition, and if you received the… Continue reading Ask SPLC: Can I use an illegally recorded conversation?
Q: Can we take pictures of celebrities from the internet and Photoshop students into them without violating copyright law? A: Probably not, unless you have a license from the photographer to alter the image, or if the image is in the public domain. Using Photoshop (or any other program) to change an image does not excuse… Continue reading Ask SPLC: Can I use a photo I pulled from Google if I Photoshop it?