Like Street Photography? Forget Quebec

When you photograph a stranger in the street, do you think about the possible legal ramifications of publishing the shot? Hopefully you do to some extent – if you plan on licensing the image for commercial uses, you will likely need a model release.

But for plenty of uses, consent isn’t required. Let’s say that photo was destined to be in the pages of a newspaper, or that you might want to put it up on your website, or that you just wanted to email it to a friend. No problem, right? Not if you live in Quebec. Each of these uses may be subject to little-known laws that may land you and your photograph in legal trouble.

This article from the Montreal Mirror is from a couple of years ago, but it highlights a strange law that forbids photographers in Quebec from publishing photos of people without their consent, no matter what the use. The article details the origin of this law:

It was [photographer Gilbert Duclos'] 1988 photo of Pascale-Claude Aubry, then 17, wearing a black sweater and sporting cropped bleached hair sitting at the entrance of a downtown Scotiabank that led to the law. Duclos donated the photo to a small, now-defunct literary magazine Vice-Versa, which used the image on its cover.

Aubry – who hadn’t given permission for the shot – claimed that the photo led people to “laugh” at her. She demanded $10,000 in compensation. Duclos offered an amount of “what I would have paid a model.” She refused and sued, with the case going all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Aubry won. In 1998 the Supreme Court ordered Duclos to pay Aubry $2,000. More importantly, the court issued the edict that henceforth, publishing an unauthorized photo of somebody violates Quebec law.

Essentially, the strange law boils down to a right of privacy (even though they may be in a public place). Before engaging in any street photography in Quebec, it might suit you to look into the legalities of what you might shoot. If you’re a brave navigator of legal documents, you can have a look through the Supreme Court’s decision which includes the following:

The right to one’s image is an element of the right to privacy under s. 5 of the Quebec Charter. If the purpose of the right to privacy is to protect a sphere of individual autonomy, it must include the ability to control the use made of one’s image. There is an infringement of a person’s right to his or her image and, therefore, fault as soon as the image is published without consent and enables the person to be identified.

As a photographer, I can only say that it’s sad that anyone attempting to document daily life in Quebec through photography may have to worry about whether or not he/she will be sued for doing so. The spread of similar laws over the world would turn street photography into a dying art.

2 Responses to “Like Street Photography? Forget Quebec”

  1. JF Duclos says:

    I was interested to read your entry (a friend sent me the link) – Gilbert Duclos is my uncle.

    I clearly remember when he was fighting this in the Supreme Court – most Quebec newspapers were behind him, since they feared the outcome of the trial – justifiably so, it turned out.

    Gilbert was so shocked by the decision that he ended up making a documentary about it: “La rue – Zone interdite”. It explores the art of street photography, and the effect that such a law would have on it. Here’s a review, if you’re interested:

    http://daily.greencine.com/archives/002685.html

    Cheers!

    • dsawchuk says:

      Thanks for posting that.

      The article says you can get the movie from a site called virage.ca, but that doesn’t seem to be working. Any other ideas where the DVD can be found?

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