New requirements for labelling of retouched photos – back and forth by The Consumer Authority: what is the current status?
- On 1 July 2022, new rules in the Marketing Control Act and a new regulation were implemented stating that advertisements that include retouched images or videos of people shall be labelled, and the Consumer Authority also published new guidelines
- Both images of attractive and more ordinary looking people are used in marketing of practically all types of products and services, ranging from bed linens, cosmetics and food, to electric appliances.
- Retouching of such photos may entail anything from adjusting nuances of colours and contrasts, to making people look both thinner and more attractive than they actually are.
- Already in August, the Consumer Authority reverted and modified their original strict guidelines for what must be labelled and what does not – so what is the current status?
From the offset, the purpose of the new rules has been to counteract body-image pressure, especially among children and adolescents, by reducing their exposure to images of digitally manipulated bodies without being aware of it or being able to realize it. The new section 2, second paragraph, second and third sentence of the Marketing Control Act, requires that all advertising “where a body’s shape, size or skin has been altered by retouching or other digital manipulation, shall be labelled.” Both the advertiser and anyone producing the advertisement on behalf of the advertiser are responsible for ensuring correct labelling. The rules apply to all advertisements published from 1 July 2022.
- The accompanying regulation essentially covers the same as the legal provision, and in addition specifies that:
- the rules apply to both images and videos used in advertising
- the label shall look like this:
- the label shall cover approximately 7% of the total image surface
- the label shall form a contrast to the background
- as a general rule, the label shall be placed in the top-left corner
- in advertising videos, the label must be visible throughout the film
The Consumer Authority simultaneously released guidelines for how the new rules were to be interpreted in practice. However, this provoked immediate uproar and discontentment, especially from professional photographers.
The photographers were of the opinion that the guidelines went way too far in their definition of what actually should be categorized as retouching covered by the labelling requirement. According to the guidelines, any standard adjustments of brightness, contrasts, shadows, and temperature could trigger the labelling requirement since such adjustments result in changes in the photographed individuals’ skin. Most professional photographers shoot their photos in raw format, a file format which requires such post-editing. The Consumer Authority had apparently not taken that into account. Should this have triggered the labelling requirement, then all types of editing, and thereby practically all images of people, would have been subject to labelling, which would in turn have undermined the whole purpose of the new labelling requirement – to demonstrate which images do not portray natural bodies.
The Consumer Authority quickly took this feedback into account, and published revised guidelines already in August this year. The revised guidelines clarify how the Consumer Authority now thinks the rules should be interpreted, which is as follows:
- the labelling requirement applies to all advertising on all platforms, including posters, newspapers, magazines, advertising leaflets, TV and movie ads, superboards, Instagram (posts, stories and reels), TikTok, Snapchat (pictures, videos and stories) and YouTube
- the labelling requirement entails labelling of all retouching of “a body’s shape, size or skin” in advertising. “Body” also includes the face
- pure editing of images and videos will not trigger the labelling requirement, if this does not result in body-image pressure
- retouching which cannot be seen as pure photo editing, but entails a change of the body, shape or skin, is still covered by the labelling requirement
- retouching of the colour of hair, teeth, eyes, eyebrows, eyelashes or body hair does not require labelling. If the shape or size of hair, teeth, eyes, eyebrows or eyelashes is retouched, the advertisement still needs to be labelled
- retouching of other elements than people in an image or film does not need to be labelled, such as removal of buildings or changes in nature
- if a second person is completely removed by retouching, the advertisement does not need to be labelled
The basis for the Consumer Authority’s interpretations is that only retouching that might result in body-image pressure must be labelled.
The labelling requirement also applies to influencers who retouch images of themselves in ads for a product, service or business. This applies regardless of if the influencer receives a monetary payment or is paid in gifts, discounts on products or services, or free borrowing of products.
In case of violation of the labelling regulations, the Consumer Authority may decide on imposing enforcement fines or a single fine pursuant to the Marketing Control Act section 41, pressuring the enterprise to correct the violation. The Consumer Authority may also, under the new rules, impose an infringement fine pursuant to the Marketing Control Act section 42 for breach of the retouching rules. As a result of the impending implementation of the stricter EU consumer protection rules (the Omnibus Directive) in Norway, there is reason to believe that such fines may reach considerable levels in the time ahead. New penal provisions in the Marketing Control Act will be implemented, which according to the preliminary Norwegian proposal will entail fines of until 4% of the company’s turnover, or until NOK 25 million if that is a higher amount. For certain types of breach of the Marketing Control Act, the Consumer Authority has already issued considerably higher fines than previously.
In certain cases, contributory liability may be imposed on anyone who contributes to displaying an unlabelled advertisement, such as a property owner leasing out the advertising spot, or editors or publicists who fail to change or remove ads that are in violation of the law and that they become aware of.
So far, we have seen a limited number of labelled images since these new rules came into force. If that is due to actual reduction in the use of retouched photos, or that advertisers and advertising agencies are not sufficiently familiar with the new rules remains to be seen when the Consumer Authority enforces the rules in the time to come.
Hanne Heltne has substantial experience within technology and intellectual property law, with main focus on technology, software, IPR and marketing law. She has been inhouse legal counsel for Schibsted and Equinor, and has for many years provided legal advice and negotiated commercial agreements regarding research and development, innovation, investments, M&A and different types of commercialization of technology, as well as handling of disputes related to technology and IPR. Heltne in particular works towards the technology, media, energy, oil service, fisheries, retail, wellness and pharma sectors.