Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Ethics of Visual Anthropology in Japan - Part One
As long and loyal readers of this blog are well aware, VAOJ has always been concerned about the ethics of photographing and filming in public. How can visual anthropologists best illustrate various aspects of Japanese culture and still protect the lives and interests of the people we research? This question is not only philosophical and academic in nature; for me as an active visual anthropologist and teacher it is an everyday concern. What right(s) do I have as an anthropologist to take pictures/video of Japanese people living their everyday lives? And how can I best advise my students who follow the same pursuit?
These are not easy questions and Japan seems to be an especially challenging arena to explore these issues. Loyal and long readers have put up with my procrastination for some time. Many apologies are in order. And so here I go...
The goal of this exercise is to establish a set of guidelines for my students and other visual anthropologists of Japan in their pursuit of using visual media and methods in their ethnographic pursuits. To this end I have been examining ethical standards of academic organizations, Japanese privacy and portrait rights laws, practices of photographers in Japan and the experiences of anthropologists in the field dealing with real life issues and dilemmas. Needless to say the amount of information and data is overwhelming. And so I have decided rather than present a finished piece of work, I will do a work in progress presentation utilizing the advantages of the blog format. Here I can use words and multimedia images and solicit feedback through the course of my research and fieldwork. And so (once again), here I go...
Three things have especially encouraged me to end my procrastination in this endeavor. The first is that the new semester starts in less than a month. This semester I hope to incorporate more information and exercises in photography, so ethical standards of what students can photograph for the course is especially important.
The second thing is a recent article about a police officer taking pictures of a woman's legs on the train. This story is different from the usual and countless stories of men taking "up-skirt" photos. Here, a man, a police officer no less, is taking a photo on his cell phone on the train, a public space. The story appeared in Japan Today, 1/12/09:
Cop arrested for taking picture of woman’s legs on train in Kanagawa
(I provide the entire text of the story as I am unsure how long the link will work.)
A 59-year-old police lieutenant was arrested early Monday for violating a Kanagawa public nuisance ordinance, accused of taking pictures on his cell phone of a woman sitting across from him on a train on Sunday.
Shigeyuki Usui, head of the traffic section at the Misaki police station in Miura City, is accused of taking a picture of a 24-year-old woman’s legs as she sat across from him on the Keikyu line at about 6 p.m. on Sunday. The man sitting with the woman told police he noticed Usui’s cell phone camera flash and heard the camera function twice. He took Usui to station staff when the train stopped at Kanazawabunko station.
One photo of the woman’s legs was found stored on Usui’s cell phone, but he has denied the allegation, saying: “I pressed the wrong button on my phone. I didn’t mean to take a picture.” Usui also said he had been drinking at a friend’s house in Yokosuka City and was on his way home.
Link to story and comments at Japan Today:
So taking photos in public is a public nuisance in Kanagawa? Or is the issue that a man was taking photos of a woman in public without her permission?
The third thing is the "Picture of the Day" at Japan Today, 1/14/09.
(Image borrowed from Japan Today, 1/14/09)
Caption reads: This poster, featuring celebrities’ photos, has been put up at subway stations by the Japan Association of Music Enterprises (JAME) to raise public awareness of portrait rights of celebrities.
Link to photo and comments:
Portrait rights seems to be an important issue in Japan, and although the "rights" in question in the above article seem to be for celebrities and their managing companies, the issues involved might shed important light for the practicing visual anthropologist. With this in mind, I found a couple of blogs dealing with (and mostly critiquing) the idea of portrait rights for famous people. See the following example:
(Image borrowed from dannychoo.com.)
Why is it that you always see pictures of people with their faces blurred out on Japanese blogs? Is it because that the faces have not been blurred out but are actually of people who have blurry-face-disease? The answer is Japanese Portrait Rights(肖像権(しょうぞうけん)) - rights introduced to "protect" folks in the entertainment industry but has become widespread enough to affect just about everybody in Japanese society. Read on to find out why I think that this is a bad thing.
Link to Danny Choo's article on Portrait Rights in Japan
(Image borrowed from Neomarxisme.)
Infringement on their "portrait rights" (肖像権). You see, the portrait rights are not only a "personal right" (人格権) but also a "property right" (財産権). "Portrait publicity rights" (肖像パブリシティ権) are a big part of the entertainment industry's profit structure, and although there are no laws specifically protecting these rights, the courts have ruled in the management companies (jimusho)'s favor over the years. These rights mean that I can't just throw a picture of Amuro Namie on my candy bars to help sell them in the market.
Link to "Stop Using Images of People We Own!" on Neomarxisme:
One interesting point here, I think, is that there are no existing laws regarding portrait rights specifically whether it be for celebrities or common folk. It seems unfortunate (but not surprising) that courts seem to side with the big businesses. Also of interest is the seemingly unrealistic aspects of these so-called portrait rights. I have witnessed on numerous occasions that whenever a famous person is in view, the hordes of people in the public are all taking pictures of them with their digital cameras and cell phone cameras. Are these people all breaking the law? Of course it depends on what these people do with the images they capture. So what is they post them on a private blog? Or an "educational blog?" Is this OK?
For the purposes of visual anthropology we really need to move away from celebrities and focus on real people. What rules do we need to follow when we do visual anthropology in Japan? What is we are doing a study on fashion and want to photograph women's legs on trains? Is this really a public nuisance? Do we need to get permission from people in public spaces when we photograph them for academic purposes? What are the laws?
I will continue and deal with these questions in my next post. Until then, please give me feedback.