Release Forms for User-Published Content

Now that the new Release Forms handbook is in circulation, I’ve realized that it fails to address a long-standing point of confusion about whether written releases are required for images published by the populace on Society official communications platforms.

Wikis are the most salient example of this uncertainty — multiple kingdoms have operated for years under the impression that all photographs uploaded to an official wiki would require signed release forms, and since the logistics of managing that paperwork seemed prohibitive, they decided that wikis had to be “unofficial.”

However, those wikis were still effectively kingdom websites — branded with the kingdom’s name and arms, maintained by officers or closely-affiliated volunteers, routinely mentioned and linked to as part of official communications, etc — so this purported solution ran contrary to the guidance of the webministry (and later the newly-created social media office) to avoid creating “unofficial-in-name-only” resources.

I believe that this was the result of an unfortunate misunderstanding, and that no release forms are required for content published directly by the populace (assuming that they themselves have rights to publish it), and the fact that other kingdoms have operated wikis as official kingdom resources without requiring release forms for user-published content supports that interpretation.

However, to eliminate any lingering confusion, I’d love to get some kind of official-ish statement made at the Society level supporting this interpretation, both for the proximate case of wikis, and more generally for other official Society communications channels that allow members of the populace to share content themselves.

In hopes of encouraging such a declaration, I sent the following letter to several Society officers with responsibility for such issues:

Greetings from the East!

As officers across the Known World read through the recently-published Release Forms Handbook, and think through their current practices with a fresh eye, there’s been some discussion around a question that isn’t clearly addressed in that document.

I’ve done my best to address that question based on my understanding of the policy, but I am not a Society officer with the authority to provide official guidance, so I wanted to run that question and answer by you to make sure I haven’t misunderstood this.

The question is whether release forms are required for photos and other content shared online by the populace directly.

My understanding is that release forms are required when material is published by someone acting as an agent of the Society — ie, by people acting in their role as an officer — but not when members of the populace are communicating among themselves.

I’ve provided a number of examples below to make sure I haven’t misunderstood how to apply this distinction to the kinds of real-world cases that officers actually encounter.

If I’ve misclassified any of these, please let me know so that I can correct any confusion I’ve caused and make sure that other officers are aware of the correction.

Alternately, if this distinction holds water, I hope that this can be made clear in future official policy guidance, perhaps by including something along these lines in a future version of the Release Forms Handbook.

Thank you for your consideration,

— Mathghamhain Ua Ruadháin

Examples of “Officer Publications”

The following cases seem like examples of material being published by an officer, for which they would need to get releases first:

• A chronicler puts anything in their official newsletter.

• A webminister puts anything on their official website.

• A local chatelaine prints brochures to be handed out an upcoming demo that show how much fun the SCA is by including photographs showing people with smiling faces at events.

• A social media officer uploads a portrait photograph of the current king and queen as the “banner” image that appears at the top of every screen in an official Facebook group that they administer.

• A fencing marshal sends an email to an official mailing list containing the full text of a modern fencing manual that is protected by copyright.

Examples of “Populace Conversations”

However, the following cases seem to be examples of the populace engaging in conversations, for which no release forms are required:

• A member of the populace posts a dozen pictures to an official Facebook group showing the friends at a recent event.

• Someone in the populace visits an official Discord server and posts a photograph of them meeting the royals last weekend.

• Artists share photos of their recently-completed fiber projects on an official mailing list.

• In the comments section of an official website, a local member writes up their redaction of a period recipe, and attaches a photograph of how the dish turned out.

• Members of the populace are encouraged to upload a photograph and some creative writing about their historical persona to their own “about me” profile page in an official wiki.

Edge Cases

The same principle also explains that release forms are not needed when officers are not acting on behalf of the Society, such as:

• A warranted webminister also has a personal blog to which they post detailed research papers they’ve written about historical woodwork — as long as it’s not branded with Society servicemarks and not hosted at a Society domain name, this doesn’t look like an official publication and doesn’t need release forms.

• A local branch archery marshal uploads a photograph to the kingdom Facebook group showing their family at Twelfth Night along with a comment about how much fun they had — they’re posting as an individual, rather than in their role as an officer, and don’t need release forms.

Armchair lawyers might enjoy constructing hypothetical scenarios that try to split the gray area, and we could probably find cases where one person’s judgement would be different from another’s, but most people operating in good faith in real-world scenarios are likely to agree on the distinction between official publication and populace conversation.

People should not try to dodge Society policies by having platforms (including Facebook groups, Discord servers, wikis, etc) that are labeled as “unofficial” but which use Society servicemarks and are treated as if they were really official resources.

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