Sophomore Rebekah Blackwell was alarmed when she opened a copy of the 2007 University of Mary Washington yearbook and saw a picture of herself. She recognized the photo right away — an unflattering shot of Blackwell dancing with her boyfriend at Spring Formal that a friend had posted on Facebook.
Blackwell hated the picture so much that she had taken her name out of the Facebook caption identifying herself in the photo.
The business major said she was shocked to find six other Facebook photos of her as well—all included in the recently-published Battlefield yearbook—without her permission or knowledge.
“If I didn’t want a picture of me dancing at spring formal on Facebook then I probably didn’t want it in the yearbook, especially without my consent,” said Blackwell.
And Blackwell is not alone.
Many other students report finding pictures of themselves lifted from their friends’ Facebook albums – and they’re not happy about it.
Junior business major Lauren Odderstol had a picture of her friends lifted from Facebook by the yearbook staff.
“I feel like it would have been acceptable had they asked permission to use the photos in a publication, but to go through and take what they needed seems very unprofessional,” Odderstol said.
Jim Platner, a sophomore economics major who lives off-campus, was confused that a picture of him in his Halloween costume also made it into the Battlefield.
“When I opened the yearbook, I immediately recognized a picture of myself that I had posted on one of my Facebook albums,” Platner said. “By stealing pictures off of Facebook for a school-sponsored publishing, this sets a bad precedent for the publishing of private materials.”
Another student, junior English major Ashley McNabb, was also never asked permission by yearbook staff for use of photos taken from her Facebook albums. One of these pictures was from two years ago, which seemed strange to her as well.
“It was creepy because both were photographs taken off-campus in my own time, and it made me sad that our hardworking yearbook staff would resort to Facebook stalking instead of being around campus with their cameras, capturing UMW candids for themselves,” McNabb said.
Madeleine Hawks, last year’s Battlefield editor-in-chief, said none of the pirated photos should have ever been included in the yearbook, and that staff members violated Battlefield policy by pirating them from Facebook accounts.
“It wasn’t my book,” Hart said. “I thought it was public domain.”
Mike Hiestand, Legal Consultant for the Student Press Law Center, a non-profit organization that provides legal help and advice to student publications, said one concern is copyright infringement. The person who takes a picture owns it, he said, and any subsequent use of the picture without the owner’s permission is a violation of copyright law.
Both former and current Battlefield editors cite several complications that may have led to the use of unapproved images.
Hawks said she assumed that her staff had secured permission to use any Facebook photos, but also said that there were few pictures that she could see as being inappropriate or embarrassing.
Hawks also said the yearbook was understaffed last year, and that could have been a factor.
“It started out with maybe 12 girls and then it was whittled down to seven other girls and me who actually did any work, which is a challenge for 320 pages of a yearbook,” she said.
Another complication was the summer 2006 theft of a $5,000 camera, she said, which would have been used to take most of the yearbook pictures.
Hawks said the yearbook also suffered from poor guidance from last year’s advisor, then-Student Activities director Lee Cotton, who was terminated from his position at the end of last year.
“He did not work out and was not helpful for our staff,” Hawks said.
According to current OSACS director Joe Mollo, editors are working hard this year to eliminate the problems of taking Facebook pictures without permission.
“They do have a policy in place. They just didn’t follow it last year,” he said.
Hart said she is also telling her staff this year to avoid any pictures that look like alcohol is involved.
“I’d rather not use Facebook pictures,” she said. “They are poor quality for the program that we have. They don’t print good so I’d rather people just go and take their own pictures.”
This year’s other co-editor, Michelle Esch, said she also hopes that this year’s staff will learn from last year’s mistakes
“We are having all of our staff members sign contracts stating in accordance with UMW Honor Code, all pictures have been approved for use in the yearbook by picture owners,” she said.