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SAG Urges Headshot Security

In advice that applies to all actors, both union and nonunion, the Screen Actors Guild is urging actors to protect their headshots.

Currently on the homepage of SAG's website is a photo with the warning "Protect your likeness and image," which links to a list of 11 tips for "guarding your reputation and headshot." The site also contains links to other pages discussing such security issues as audition scams, identity theft, and the unauthorized sale of headshots online.

David White, the union's chief legal counsel, said that headshot security "is a growing problem and a serious challenge for actors and the Guild. This industry is a hard business. Actors as a general rule are vulnerable to abuses that occur to employees anywhere. Then add to that [the fact that] they put their personal likeness in the marketplace to be used and misused (a) by the people they know, like producers, photographers, managers, and casting directors, then (b) people they don't know and don't trust, and (c) those who get hold of a picture, say, when casting [offices] dump the photos after a period of time."

Actors have also been known to suffer abuse from photographers who sell their headshots on eBay, a problem that SAG has been working with the online auction site to overcome. And then, noted White, there are "fans who go overboard and imagine a personal relationship with [actors] and will seek information any way they can get it. There are several categories of people who will, for their own purposes, take information that actors put out there, whether it's personal contact information or other data they put on the back of photographs."

The growth of the Internet has led to the increased availability of actors' photos, added White, "so we foresee this problem as only getting worse."

Photographers and Websites

Most of the 11 tips SAG lists on its headshot security page appear to be common sense, such as don't put your Social Security number on your headshot or resume and "always assume your online communications are not private."

But two of the tips may not occur to most actors.

One suggests, "When having headshots taken, ask the photographer to include language in the contract stating that it is a 'work for hire.' Otherwise, you do not own the copyright to your photographs (even if the photographer gives you the negative)."

Actors who are eager to have a good photographer shoot them may be reluctant to do this. But White emphasized that actors can "demand limits to how photographers may use their photographs and negative, including limits on the time period in which a photographer can use their image. Actors need to understand they have the right to make these demands, but they also have to face the reality that photographers might say, 'I'm not willing to comply with what you want.' "

In another tip, SAG suggests, "If you choose to promote and market yourself online through the creation of a website, do not use your personal contact information when registering your domain name."

People have been known to access contact information through a domain registration database and use it to abuse actors, White noted. He stressed that personal contact information is commonly not required when registering a domain name.

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This article first appeared: 8/18/2005

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