If I'm shooting a film in a public space, do I need to get the permission of people who may appear in the background of my images?
In an ideal world, you'd get everyone who appears in your movie to sign a release form, but that's obviously not practical when any bystander can walk into your shot (like if you're filming a documentary or a public event, for example).
The thing is that when people are in a public space, they've already forfeited some of their right to privacy — getting a release is an extra precaution though. Generally, as long as the images of people aren't offensive, defamatory or unreasonably invade their privacy, you don't have to get every person in the crowd to sign a release. Think of it this way: if it were totally illegal to take images of crowds, the nightly news would never be able to show street footage. That said, anybody who is interviewed, or has a very prominent role (like a featured extra) should probably sign a release form such as a Release for Use of Likeness.
Another way to get a little more protection is to do a crowd release notice. That means you post signs that you're filming at all of the entrances and exits of your location, and explain how people's likenesses may be used. This is easier if the filming location is in a somewhat enclosed space.
And don't forget, depending on the size of your production and whether or not it's commercial in nature, you may need a permit to film in some public locations. For example, you need a permit to shoot a commercial film in San Francisco parks.
This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.