February 1, 2023

Brad Marolf

Business & Finance Wonders

UW-Madison students spark conversation about written agreements for university marketing campaigns

MADISON, Wis. — After one University of Wisconsin-Madison student tweeted concerns over an image of him being used for a marketing campaign, other students are now sharing similar experiences of feeling misled about how the university could use their likeness.

In the replies to this tweet, Mikey Morin shared his similar experiences with the student who made the tweet. He graduated from UW-Madison back in 2019.

“I actually saw it because one of my buddies liked the tweet. It just came up on my feed randomly,” said Morin “And it was this guy talking about how UW took a photo of him. He said, like, his neck was long and whatever. And he didn’t like the photo. I was laughing because for years, I was on the cover of wisc.edu, I was on the schedule planner, I was on brochures that they would hand out to incoming freshmen.”

Morin said he had no idea that his picture would have been published that broadly. Even though he said he wasn’t upset by his image, it took him by surprise.

Morin did not sign up for and was not used in a marketing campaign, UW said, and his image use fell under the university’s photo guidelines where written permission is not required for photographing students in public settings.

The student who originally made the tweet didn’t speak with News 3 Now on camera. However, the university told News 3 Now over email that the image that the student used was from a marketing campaign he had volunteered for and signed a talent release form years ago.

The university said the campaign ended in 2020 and the poster should have been removed. The university said it’s likely it remained up longer than it should have because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

For general photography of students in public that isn’t used for commercial purposes, UW-Madison does not have students sign written consent forms. In cases like the student who first tweeted, the university said in a statement that he had signed up voluntarily and shared information about himself to use in a marketing campaign — a different scenario than general use photography. (UW-Madison’s photography policy is outlined here. When voluntarily signing up for marketing campaigns, UW-Madison students sign this form.)

“They’re allowed to take photos of you on campus, they’re allowed to use it for whatever they want,” said Morin. “That’s kind of what they did.”

In an online form, UW said the student in the tweet said he was a strategic communications major, he was part of the student radio station and that he loved ice cream. Answering those questions and signing a talent release form allowed the university to phrase his answers into the poster he took issue with years later.

“I’m sure if they just asked him and said ‘Do you want ice cream aficionado for your quote?’ He’d probably have been like, ‘No, no, no, “‘ said Morin.

“This is the information that was used in developing copy,” UW said in a statement, referring to what he had entered in an online form. “It is not a direct quote, but marketing copy developed directly from the information he volunteered as part of his participation.”

In this case, UW said in a statement that while the original student had voluntarily signed up for the campaign, because of Covid the posters had stayed up longer than normal. The university said it was unaware this poster was still up in the library and had since reached out to have it removed. The university said it also let the former student know that his post made the university aware of it still being used as an advertisement.

In Morin’s case, this situation turned into a conversation about just how far photography for commercial use can go on campus.

“If somebody is reading these forms through that’s good for you, but like, that’s not me,” said Morin.


Editor’s note: This story was corrected to clarify that Morin did not participate in or was used for a marketing campaign. Additionally, the story is updated to clarify the differences between marketing releases and general, non-commercial photography which does not require a written release at UW-Madison.