French Court Bans Photo Book in Dispute Over One of the Portraits Within


A French court has banned distribution of a photo book and fined the photographer, essentially for including a portrait the subject didn’t like.

The court ruled Yan Morvan‘s book “Gangs Story,” a series of photos of French gang members, must be removed from bookstores because one of its portrait subjects objects to his depiction. Under France’s “personality rights” laws, individuals have broad control over the use and distribution of their image. Morvan was also ordered to pay a €5,000 fine.

The disputed image shows a 17-year-old identified only as “Petite Mathieu” posing with a flare gun and hammer — two weapons not covered by French restrictions and useful for street fights. The subject objected to the image in 2000, when the book was first published, and succeeded in having it removed from subsequent printings.

The offending image, blurred for legal protection

The offending image, blurred for legal protection

The offending image was returned to the book for a 2013 reprint, however, prompting the subject — now 43-years-old and still unnamed — to complain to the court that it cast him in a poor right and violated his rights.

Morvan tells the British Journal of Photography that the ruling should be taken as a warning to any photographers working in France: “There are 250 images in this book; what this sentence means is that 250 people could sue me. In essence, this sentence is a ban on a photographer’s right to work.”

The images in the book are drawn from Morvan’s four decades of documenting gang culture in France’s suburbs, which ended after a serial killer held him captive and tortured him for three weeks.

(via British Journal of Photography)

Image credits: All images by Yan Morvan/la Manufacture de Livres

  • Abacus

    Ever hear of a model release?

  • 写真家

    This was in France, not United States. Who says model releases is needed or valid? Maybe model release in France is good for only so long, or minor can not sign?!

  • hdc77494

    Do you need a release to photograph people in public?

  • warning

    France is a centimeter away from communism. 75% income tax too.

  • zaakir

    ***** france

  • Abacus

    Obviously you have no idea. Strange that you choose to disagree anyway. A model release is valid in France. A parent can sign for a minor. There is no problem here in France that a model release would not have solved.

  • user xyyyz

    like everyone who publishes you better get your releases in order before you go to print.. how hard is that? Seems like a straightforward matter to me. About France being communist… that’s jingoism. Hopefully the author of that comment isn’t American because that would be embarrassing.

  • John Mason

    The French will soon realize this isn’t going to work very well. I mean, this is the home of Cartier-Bresson for god’s sake. A similar case in point, I know of a British electronics company that was told by the French govt that their technical manuals couldn’t be printed in English and distributed in their country. The company’s owner a little fun with that, and made revised manuals with the same pictures and technical diagrams but not a single word: not English or anything other language, just completely blank pages. Needless to say, the French weren’t amused :)

  • Tyler Magee

    No, I think a few states were trying to but it never worked out (US) it is. I think a state in the UK passed it tho

  • Genkakuzai

    Really fail to see the problem here, remove the photo again and get on with it. I doubt it’ll affect sales even the slightest if ONE single photo is removed.

  • Nik.C

    75% tax for the highest earners, and there’s no way France would ever bow to communism, ever heard of May ’68? Communism would never work in the modern era ( apart from North Korea)

  • McGraffix

    Of course, you’d still have 249 pictures to look at. But that’s not the and not his point. Mr. Morvan is worried that this could create a precedent and severely inhibit photographers from publishing in France – in whatever form, be it book or digital. If their pictures include people in a recognizable form, these individuals could all go to court if there’s something they don’t like about it.
    Now, that worry is slightly off the mark here if you consider strictly the particular case, as the ‘offending photo’ had at one time already not been included, apparently because the subject indicated he did not want it to be at the time. So, the photographer knew. That still does not change the point that it could – could – mean that shooting portraits and people would get hard, unless you’d have a legal form signed all the time, however impractical the situation (imagine shooting for an artbook somewhere in the world: you’d have to have a form in the local language and conforming to local law).
    Also, I’m unsure if a ruling like this could be upheld were it concerns the press and news, althought certain limits apply there too, of course (i.e. papparazzi-like tactics that can border on the illigal).

  • jeff

    Up to a certain point yes. It is funny seeing Martin Parr in France with assistants running behind him getting model releases. Furthermore, you don’t need a model release if you do not profit from that work.

    The point here is more about the “droit à l’oubli” (right for forgotten-ness – basically you have the right to ask for things to be forgotten) that was created for the internet age but now seems to be used for books too… This is the scary thing really. So yeah in theory, all other 249 photos could be hit by the same plight and asked to be removed from the book.

  • jeff

    Not for a group.
    Yes for singled out people – Double yes if you “profit” from it (editorial, I think Art photography falls in another category).

  • jeff

    75% taxation is on the revenue above the 1 million € mark.

    France is closer to ban US imports because they’re leaning a bit too far to the right than ever going in the communism direction again.

  • yopyop

    Maybe the problem here is that this was not taken in public but in the boy’s bedroom, I don’t know.

  • yopyop

    Actually the Communist Party is as weak as it had to make an alliance with another left wing party for the presidential election. The far/extreme right wing on the other hand is doing pretty good and is constantly progressing.

  • yopyop

    Sorry but I don’t see what is your point, could explain a bit further ?

  • Gman

    depends on the country, but in mine, you only need a model release if you are using the photo to promote a product or service, i.e., commercial or adverting photography. Taking a photo of someone is the street and then putting them in a book and selling the book or prints of the person is A-ok.

  • harumph

    I think the point is that in the US, for instance, this couldn’t happen (yet). You can still publish a book like this in the US without model releases.

  • chinks

    To be frank, if he is bigging-up the gang life, then his book
    should be banned no matter what. Work like this is a disgrace and
    should land the photographer in jail, and anyone who was photographed
    in the book for admitting that they are members of violent gangs
    should automatically be put behind bars to help clean up the streets
    in this world that have become so awful. Zero-tolerance is needed in this world to get it back to a respectful, safe place to bring up our families.

  • Romain

    So what to do about photographers working on wars and war crimes ? Put them in prison because they testify of something illegal being done ?
    He’s not saying “hey people ! gang life is cool ! let’s all be in a gang !” He’s testifying of a reality, that’s all.

  • harumph

    Yay, fascism!

  • Mr Model Release

    I can see that happening…

    “Uh…hi there Mr Drug Dealer…can you sign this form and let me take pictures of you going about your generally illegal life?”

  • jkantor267

    Let’s make sure this picture – unblurred – ends up everywhere on the internet along with his name.

  • jkantor267

    Like this.

  • Eugene Chok

    talk about rose coloured lenses?’needed in this world to get it back to a respectful, safe place ‘ history would say this world never existed

  • Eugene Chok

    you posed… in our house… with your weapons… what part of this represents you badly? the part where you let the photographer in, you picked up your weapons and stood in front of him?

  • Rabi Abonour

    “Like everyone who publishes”? In America, photographers don’t need releases to publish editorially. This broad concept of image rights in France could effectively be used to end photojournalism.

  • John Mason

    Their govt, like many others, can be very short sighted with their decisions.

  • user xyyyz

    Rabi.. this is not a photograph taken in public. It is a photograph taken in someone’s home and Morvan failed to get his permission in writing. Morvan should have known better. He’s a pro.

  • user xyyyz

    agreed.. this is a massive over reaction to an unauthorized photograph taken by Morvan who is a pro and should have obtained a written release prior to even picking up his camera. I’m sure the deletion may hurt his feelings but the total impact of his book should not suffer terminally.

  • 9inchnail

    He was just a kid. He thought he looked cool. Maybe his parents saw the photo later on and were not that excited to see their son, nazi posters in the background, posing as a gangsta. A model release wouldn’t have helped, either because you would actually need the parents’ signature.

  • Eugene Chok

    hes 43 now… i am only 30 and there are plenty of pictures of me in my youth drugged out of my mind on meth and xtc… granted not published but floating around the internet, but arent we all meant to make mistakes to learn from? those that dont kill us anyway

  • James

    I agree, he’s obviously aware he’s being photographed, and well I would assume he had a release.