Who Should Own the Copyright to Our Mugshots?

War Party voices across the media are decrying Candidate Trump’s windfall from merchandizing his jail selfie. They’re convinced that a city and county jail should own the right to exploit the mugshots of its booking victims. Wait what?

Out of spite for the Trumpster, the antipopulist pundits would prefer that a justice system profit from spreading the likenesses of its detainees, innocent-until-proven-guilty be damned? What an unpopular opinion indeed.

Booking officers would have to mandate that arrestees sign releases for the public display of their mugs. That’s an interesting civil illiberty.

I’m sure intellectual property brokers love the idea because those rights could be contracted to IP horders like Getty Images for further control over what the public sees and can’t see. Next would be surveillance footage, doorbell videos, and traffic cams. To my mind the mugshot is overreach enough. If anyone has earned that image it’s the perp themself.

Trump elected to scowl for his jail portrait, apparently peeved at the injustice of his indictment. It seems a rather petty posture considering the theatricality at play. Maybe the Edward G. Robinson menace is his best look, but I always tried to smile for the occasion.

In my experience jailors wouldn’t let you smile. Apprehendees are expected to look glum. and you certainly feel it, being shouted at to stop smiling. I think Tom Delay’s famous car dealer smile mugshot broke the precedent, I told them as much, but wardens have different tools now to snap the expression they prefer. They don’t tell you when they’ve clicked the shutter, or they pretend they have until you stop mugging. With digital equipment they simply record a video and choose the frame of their liking. If you want to effect joviality you have to wear a smile through the entire booking process. For newcomers to our ugly penal system that’s not an easy thing to do.

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