Q: Television shows are using hidden cameras more and more for their investigations. Are they allowed to use hidden cameras whenever they want?
A: No. The general rule is that hidden cameras can be used to take pictures of people in public places, but not in private places or where people expect that their activities will be private. For instance, it would be okay to take hidden camera video footage in a doctor's waiting room, but not in a doctor's private examining room.
Q: We've been reading a lot about the paparazzi. Aren't there any laws to prevent them from harassing people?
A: Not in Ohio. Although the laws of trespass, stalking, assault and privacy apply to paparazzi and other journalists just as they do to everyone else, celebrities and public figures can be photographed, followed and even hounded while they are in public places without any of these laws being violated.
Q: A number of television shows now use video footage of actual police chases, fire department rescues and EMS crews trying to save people's lives. Do the people shown have to give their permission before their pictures can be used on television?
A: Again, the answer depends upon whether the video shows people in public or private places. A criminal who is being chased and eventually arrested by the police on public streets cannot complain when that video is used on TV. A camera crew had better get permission, however, before televising pictures of EMS technicians giving CPR to someone in their own living room.
Q: I saw my picture on television the other day as part of the crowd at a political rally. Didn't the TV station have to get my permission before they used my picture?
A: No. As long as your picture was used in a news story about an event of public interest, the station did not need to get your permission.
Q: If I talk to a newspaper reporter in confidence, can he ever be forced to reveal my name?
A: Ohio has a law called the "shield law," which says that reporters cannot be forced to disclose the names of their sources. Under some unusual circumstances, however, courts have put reporters in jail for refusing to identify a source. And, since there is still no federal shield law, federal authorities can easily put reporters in jail for refusing to identify a source.
Q: What can I do if I talk to a reporter only after he has promised not to name me in his article, but then he breaks that promise and my name does appear in the article?
A: You could try to sue that reporter for breach of contract. A promise by a reporter not to use your name has been held by some courts to be an enforceable contract just like any other promise. Other courts, however, have found such a promise to be a moral obligation, but not a legally-enforceable contract.
Q: What if I voluntarily give an interview to a reporter, but then later change my mind and tell the reporter I don't want him to use the interview in his story? Can the reporter still use the interview?
A: The interview can probably still be used. The reporter has relied on your permission to conduct his interview, and the law will not penalize the reporter if you later change your mind. You should always assume that anything you say to a reporter will be published unless the reporter explicitly promises not to publish it.
This "Law You Can Use" consumer legal information column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association. It was originally prepared by Cleveland attorney Kenneth A. Zirm of Ulmer & Berne, LLP. It was updated by Jack Greiner and Anthony Robertson, attorneys in the Cincinnati firm, Graydon Head.