As a registered 501(c)3 non-profit, non-commercial entity, Vitamin Angels can use photographs depicting the subjects of its work for general advocacy and programming purposes, including for raising funds.
However, the increase in fundraising partnerships with private sector commercial entities – often referred to as ‘co-branding’ partnerships – is stretching the limits of fair use of documentary images. This is a key issue for Vitamin Angels because our photographs are overwhelmingly documentary, non-commercial, photographs. (Commercial photographs are images of subject(s) who have signed a Commercial Model Release permitting their use.) Photography or use of photography should be done in keeping with Vitamin Angels’ Principles and Guidelines for Ethical Reporting on Children.
The following guidelines should be followed to determine if documentary photographs may be used in a commercial partnership initiative.
Commercial images for commercial partnerships:
Documentary images may be used: in a Vitamin Angels or Vitamin Angels-related advertisement or promotion that is paid for or otherwise sponsored by a commercial entity, but which does not include the direct promotion of a specific product or service of the sponsoring entity.
Documentary images should NOT be used: in any advertisement or promotion that links subject(s) in an image with a specific product or service of a commercial entity, thereby implying a product endorsement from which the commercial entity may profit. This includes the use of Vitamin Angels images on the product or packaging of any commercial product, even if such use is intended to raise awareness or funds for Vitamin Angels.
A useful rule of thumb to evaluate when documentary images can or cannot be used in partnerships with commercial entities is: Commercial companies can appear to endorse maternal and child health and Vitamin Angels, but the subjects in documentary photographs cannot appear to endorse commercial products or services.
Commercial products in Vitamin Angels’ images:
The same guidelines governing documentary vs. commercial images apply in the case of commercial products that are part of Vitamin Angels programs, such as vitamins and supplements. Often, our commercial partners donate products which may be seen in Vitamin Angels documentary photographs depicting their distribution. These photographs may be used by Vitamin Angels to promote the use vitamins and supplements to reduce child mortality and improve general health. This is a valid non-commercial, advocacy-related use of these images.
Documentary images may be used: Instances where documentary photographs feature commercial products being distributed to Vitamin Angels beneficiaries may be used in certain circumstances by the donating commercial entity to indicate to their audience that a donation has been made to a charitable organization and that donation is reaching individuals in need of the product. Such cases will be addressed on a case-by-case basis with final approval from Vitamin Angels required.
Documentary images should NOT be used: Vitamin Angels documentary photographs depicting distribution of donated commercial product should not be used by the manufacturers as an endorsement of their product by the beneficiaries for marketing purposes. Such use would constitute commercial use of the photos, for which there have been no releases signed by the individuals who are also in the photographs.
Under no circumstances will the beneficiaries be requested to pose with a commercial product. Such circumstances would constitute “staging” and may compromise Vitamin Angels credibility with recipients or falsely imply such photographs are a prerequisite to receipt of supplementation.
A useful rule of thumb to evaluate when documentary images featuring commercial products can or cannot be used by the donating commercial entity: Commercial companies can appear to endorse monetary or product donations to those individuals reached by Vitamin Angels, but the subjects in documentary photographs cannot appear to endorse commercial products or services.
Photographic Authenticity and Visual Misrepresentation:
Photographic authenticity may be compromised by inappropriate use of digital photo editing software. This is particularly relevant to the documentary images captured by Vitamin Angels which are of real subjects in non-fictionalized settings. Editing of our photographs has ethical, and possibly legal, implications for Vitamin Angels and may affect our credibility. Manipulation of photos for graphic design purposes (e.g., cropping, contrast, color balance) is generally acceptable as long as the meaning of the image is not distorted by the change(s). However, manipulation of a photo that distorts the reality of the image is not permitted. This includes but is not limited to altering images by inserting, removing, or skewing content with the intention of making it more focused or appealing.
Any visual misrepresentation of the content of an image is not permitted. This includes but is not limited to using a photograph taken in one country being substituted for that of another (e.g. a photo of a Dominican family is used to represent beneficiaries in Haiti). Such use violates the right of the subjects to be accurately represented, and viewers are manipulated into thinking they are viewing subjects from one area, when they are not. Vitamin Angels has an extensive library of photos from the countries we serve, if content from a specific country is necessary, please contact us for available imagery.
i These guidelines and principles are borrowed and modestly adapted from UNICEF’s Photo Guidelines. Our appreciation is extended to UNICEF’s Communications Division.