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By Michael Arbeit
Founding Attorney

Have you decided to join the ranks of being a career social media influencer?  Or perhaps you are enjoying it right now as a hobby? If you are one of these individuals who enjoys filming video content in Long Island, you should be aware of some basic legal considerations involved. These might include the nature of the space you are in (for example, whether it is public or private), whether you have secured the consent of individuals who may appear in your content, and whether you have other necessary permissions or permits. 

It is advisable to consult an attorney who handles criminal defense in this area to make sure that you are in compliance with local, state, and federal laws. Michael  A. Arbeit, P.C. can help you navigate this area of the law, particularly if you are a social influencer who creates and posts videos from Long Island and the metropolitan area. 

Expectation of Privacy in Public Spaces

Generally, in the United States, there is a limited expectation of privacy in public spaces. This means that if you are filming in a public park, on a beach, or on a public street, you are generally permitted to film whatever is around you. However, this does not give you a license to record people in a manner that is intrusive, harassing, or that otherwise violates their reasonable expectation of privacy. For example, recording someone in a public setting where they have a reasonable expectation of privacy may also be illegal. Examples would include bathrooms and changing rooms. 

Filming in Private Spaces

If you are filming in a private space, such as someone’s business or home, you generally need the permission of the property owner to film. This is true whether you are an influencer or not. Some businesses might have specific policies regarding filming on their premises, so it’s a good idea to inquire ahead of time to make sure that you are doing things in the appropriate manner. Note that Long Island is also home to many private properties and separate permissions might be needed from property owners to film there.

Securing the Necessary Permissions to Film People

When filming people, especially if you intend to publish the footage in a way that could potentially be commercial or otherwise publicly disseminated, it is recommended that you obtain signed release forms. This is to ensure that the individuals captured in your video have consented to being filmed and potentially appearing in your published content. Similarly, recognizable private locations may require a location release form signed by the owner.

Being an Influencer and Right of Publicity Permission

Being an influencer may complicate things further. If your videos include product placements or other forms of sponsorship, then the need for clearances and permissions can be even trickier. It is important to be familiar with the specific regulations that might apply in Long Island. New York State has its own set of laws regarding filming, including what is often referred to as the “right to publicity,” which gives individuals the right to control the commercial use of their name, image, voice, or other likeness.

New York Civil Rights Law sections 50 and 51 protect against unauthorized use of another person’s name, portrait, or picture for advertising or trade purposes without their written consent. Therefore, if you are a social influencer and are filming yourself, or others who have consented to be filmed, then the individuals’ rights to publicity have generally not been infringed upon.  However, if you plan to include others in your videos without their permission, and use the video for commercial gain, such as sponsored advertisements or selling merchandise, you could potentially be infringing upon those individuals’ rights to publicity. Exceptions to this might include newsworthiness, public interest, and certain forms of artistic expression.  These are not  blanket exceptions though and are subject to interpretation by the courts.

Additional Permissions and Permits For Social Influencers To Be Aware Of

  • Audio Recording Permission: In New York State, it is generally illegal to record a conversation unless at least one party to the conversation consents to the recording. This is known as “one-party consent.” Violating this law can result in criminal penalties, including potential jail time and fines.
  • Film Permits: New York City typically requires a permit for filming activities that could interfere with public spaces or safety. However, you will usually not need a permit if you are shooting with a handheld camera and minimal equipment.
  • Drone Use: If you are using drones for aerial shots, you’ll need to follow the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) guidelines and local laws.
  • Intellectual Property: If you are using any copyrighted music, make sure to secure the necessary licenses to avoid copyright infringement claims. You should also make sure that brand logos or trademarks that are visible in your video are not the focus unless you have permission. Trademark infringement can be a legal concern.

Other Legal Considerations For Social Influencers To Be Aware Of

  • Disruptive Behavior: Laws against public disturbance, harassment, or nuisance also apply when filming. Always be respectful to others in public spaces.
  • Safety Regulations: Make sure to follow all local and state safety regulations, including any COVID-19 related guidelines that may apply.
  • FCC Guidelines: If you are being paid or otherwise compensated to promote a product or service, you must disclose this in your video as per Federal Communications Commission (FCC) guidelines.
  • Content Restrictions: Content promoting hate speech, violence, or anything illegal can have severe legal ramifications.

Penalties for Failure To Comply with Permission Rights Of Others

New York Civil Rights Law Sections 50 and 51 provide that violation of one’s rights under these statutes can result in being charged with a misdemeanor or even a felony, and the victim can bring a civil action against the person violating one’s rights. Some examples of penalties that could ensue for improper recordings as a social media influencer would be the following:

  • Criminal Charges: Illegally recording someone can potentially lead to felony or misdemeanor charges under New York’s wiretapping laws or other statutes related to privacy and harassment.
  • Civil Penalties: In addition to criminal penalties, individuals could potentially sue you for damages in civil court for invasion of privacy.
  • Intent: In some cases, the court might consider the intent behind the recording. For example, recording for the purposes of blackmail or stalking could carry heavier penalties.

Contact Our Long Island Criminal Defense Attorney Today

Shooting video content in public and private spaces can present a series of challenges. Social influencers, in particular, should be aware of these considerations to avoid any potential legal ramifications. It is always best to consult with an experienced attorney to ensure that you are in compliance with all relevant laws and regulations as a social media influencer. Failure to do so could result in fines, legal action, or other penalties that could seriously impact your ability to work as a social influencer. Michael A. Arbeit, P.C. can help you navigate the system and advocate for you if you have gotten into trouble, or even better yet, help you avoid the possible future consequences of failing to adhere to the laws affecting social media influencers.

About the Author
Michael A. Arbeit, P.C. is devoted to all Criminal Defense and  Traffic related matters.  Michael practices primarily in the Criminal and County (Supreme) Courts in Nassau County, Suffolk County, Queens County, Kings County, New York County and the Bronx County.  Michael is also licensed to practice law in the Federal Courts of the Eastern District of New York (EDNY) and the Southern District of New York (SDNY).