With the proliferation of smartphones, gadgets and social media apps, the notion of privacy has become more complex. Not long ago, there was the Dutch case of a woman who took her kid’s grandma to court for refusing to pull down her kid’s photos from social media. Not long ago, Dua Lipa was sued for posting on Instagram a copyrighted paparazzi photo of herself. More recently, the Wandji Cyrille-Erisemary Dinga affair ended up with the invasion of privacy when recorded calls were leaked to buzz-hungry disseminators some of whom were also guilty of publishing unverified information. These cases sparked a lot of debates on issues related to privacy, consent and copyright.
This is an age where people want to take pictures of everything and every moment spent; pictures of exotic outings, tables of classic dishes, ghastly accidents, fights, nudity, weddings, vacations, parties and what have you? These pictures are taken for all the wrong reasons, good reasons and even for no reason. People are quick to upload images to show the world how well they are doing, how badly others are doing or just to be credited for taking the shot.
When one thinks of some of these images that have shown disregard for privacy, the case of late Cardinal Tumi whose last moments on earth were clandestinely video recorded and uploaded on social media still makes me quiver. This act sparked a plethora of criticisms from within and without the religious family but it seems like Cameroonians still have a lot to learn from the rage, shock and dismay that was generated by the unorthodox act.
The greatest question about privacy boils down to who controls our information; who has access to what and for what purpose? Being able to decide who has access to what and what is done with personal or private information should be a concern for any reasonable/rational human being or system. As Edward Snowden points out, “Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide, is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.” Whoever controls information has power, and the knowledge of this should call for our discretion. Snowden goes ahead to argue that: “Privacy isn’t about something to hide. Privacy is about something to protect. And that’s who you are. That’s what you believe in. That’s who you want to become. Privacy is the right to the self. Privacy is what gives you the ability to share with the world who you are on your own terms.”
The Martin Camus Mimb/Wilfried Eteki vs Malicka case has made us revisit not only issues of privacy and decency but also led us to see the power of those who control information. The once arrogant and self-proclaimed handsome and seductive Camus has been deflated and unmasked by a powerful tool called information. Immediately he lost control of the information related to the incident, he lost control of “his” story and everything else. With the revelations and testimonies that don’t speak in their favour and Eteki’s attempt to flee the country, it’s no wonder they were denied bail. Malicka on the other hand, who was vilified by Camus because he initially controlled the narrative, has a chance to tell her side of the story thanks to the support of many.
Once information is given out to the public, there’s no telling how it’s going to be received, interpreted, and used. This is why governments and corporate bodies withhold certain information or feed us with half-truths. It’s necessary to know what type of information is made available and to whom, when it is made available and in what manner it is done. The revelations made by Edward Snowden, a former CIA employee and NSA contractor, have shown us how privacy is becoming more and more difficult to guarantee and protect.
There are legally binding documents known as Consent and Release Forms that are usually signed by an individual to an institution, an organization, etc. in charge of the production. Consent and release forms are given to your interviewees, talent, or subject and by signing it, they permit you to use their name Image, and words depending on the nature of your project or production. It is vital to request consent making it known to the signatory that the content can be used in any way depending on future needs because it helps to prevent legal complications that could arise in the course of the production. It is advisable for this document to be signed prior to the beginning of work-proper so that in the case where the person changes his/her mind in the middle of or after a project, the information can still be used even if a new negotiation is not reached. Minors cannot give such consent, but it can be obtained from an adult such as a parent or guardian.
Some serious considerations also have to be taken about dispensing information deemed to be private. When information is considered private and not newsworthy as per the law and personal judgement, even if it is true, permission is still required to give the public access to such information. Medical and legal-related information, for example, is usually delicate and should be handled with discretion. It’s for this reason that we have doctor-patient and lawyer-client confidentiality. This explains why the video made of the last moments of the Cardinal was an invasion of privacy and a breach of the ethics of the profession.
If personal, private, and/or sensitive information hasn’t been made public, especially by the person/people involved, it’s advisable to seek consent before making such information public even if it’s of public interest. Chimamanda Adichie, for instance, had to tell her former mentee to take down pictures that were taken in her house when information about her Nigerian residence was unknown to the public.
I’m still surprised by how we use people’s names and images with impunity, especially when it’s going to fetch us money. This is a violation of the right to publicity. Although we have seen people get away with it countless times, it doesn’t mean that it’s not punishable. Stanley Enow had to make an official statement about having nothing to do with a show that was organised using him as “bait” to lure his fans. Chimamanda also had to ask a seemingly ungrateful former mentee to remove her name from her book.
You have to think well before using information. There are not necessarily the main characters who feature in your video or production who have to give you appropriate permission. The same goes for locations. Clearance is equally needed for artworks, music, photos, clips, etc. It is high time journalists, researchers, filmmakers, bloggers, companies and individuals took seriously the implications of their actions on themselves and on others concerning privacy and copyright. Before sharing information, it is essential to know the provisions of the law with regard to your type of content.