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New mug shot law raises questions

July 1, 2014--11:11 a.m.

By David Crowder

In the news business, we use mug shots as a way of keeping the public informed about arrests in the community.  However, there are some who use those mug shots as a way to make money.

There have been multiple stories about these sites on the internet charging people, sometimes 5 or 6 hundred dollars to remove their picture from the site, even if they are found not guilty.  A new law took effect today in Georgia that outlaws that sort of profiteering.

The law requires anyone who requests a mug shot to submit a statement that the image will not be used on a website or other publication that charges for removal.  However, another component of the law states that if one of these sites were to use a mug shot that a legitimate media source has acquired, that legitimate site could be held liable and face a fine.

Could this have unintended consequences for newspaper, television and radio news?

We asked Jim Zachary with the Georgia Transparency Project  what would happen if a profiteering site swiped a mug shot from a legitimate site without permission?

Zachary believes that if a site illegally obtains that picture, they have committed theft and as a victim of the theft the legitimate website would not be held liable.

However, there would have to be proof submitted showing there was no agreement between the two entities that allows for the sharing of mug shots.

Zachary says he has several concerns about the law.  First, what exactly constitutes “Legitimate media” as more people get their news from multiple sources. 

Secondly, many of the for profit mug shot sites are outside of Georgia, making the law difficult to enforce.

Still, he says this version of the bill is a lot better than the original legislation that would have essentially banned the publication of mug shots altogether.

more on the new law and other issues related to open records and government transparency visit www.transparencyprojectofgeorgia.com.