Photographers Rights

One of the things heard being discussed around the fine art and photography gallery I work with, is what photographers can and cannot photograph.

a scenario: You are out strolling around, photographing interesting
stuff. You come across a terrific landscape that has a complete
stranger in it. Without that person’s silhouette in the composition,
you have no terrific photo. What do you do? Go ahead and take the
picture?  And if you do,  do you need the person’s permission order to
print or sell the photograph?

I’ve always thought not and in asking around, I’ve found that ideas
and opinions about this vary greatly. So off I went in search of some
conclusive answers for myself. In fact, there are, surprisingly, very
few restrictions on what and who can be photographed in the public view.

At this point though, I need to make you perfectly aware that although I’m devastatingly savvy, awesomely bright, and a talented writer, I’m not not a lawyer and none of this is legal advice.

A lot of this information was gleaned from attorney Bert P. Krages
website, which was chockfull of terrific and useful information about
copyright, photography and art law and bunches of other useful stuff.
There’s even a downloadable PDF called the Photographers Right that covers
quick access to your rights and obligations concerning confrontations over photography all in a handy-dandy flyer. So remember! If you have a legal
issue, get in touch with a lawyer, not me or 12 12 Gallery

So What Are My Rights & What’s Expected of Me?

I. Anyone in a public place can take pictures of
anything they want. Public places include parks, sidewalks, malls, etc.
Malls? Yup. Even though they’re technically private property, being open
to the public makes them public space.

II. If you are on public property, you can take
pictures of private property. If you can see a building
from the sidewalk, it’s fair game.

III. If you are on private property and are asked
not to take pictures either by staff, other authorized personnel or posted signs, you are obligated to honor that request.

IV. Sensitive government buildings (military bases,
nuclear facilities) can and do prohibit photography if it is deemed a threat
to national security.

V. People can be photographed if they are in public
(without their consent) unless they have secluded themselves and can
therefore expect a reasonable degree of privacy. People swimming at the
local community pool? Sure. Somebody changing into their suit in the
locker room? Uh, no.

VI. Any or all of following can almost always be photographed from public places, despite popular opinion:

  • bridges & other infrastructure, transportation facilities (i.e. airports)
  • industrial facilities, Superfund sites
  • public utilities, residential & commercial buildings
  • accident & fire scenes, criminal activities
  • children, celebrities, law enforcement officers
  • UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, Sasquatch

VIII. If you are challenged or confronted, you don’t have to
disclose your identity (except in some cases when a law enforcement
officer asks) and you don’t have to
explain why you are taking pictures.

IX. Private parties have very limited rights to
detain you against your will, and can be subject to legal action if
they hassle you.

X. If someone attempts to confiscate your camera
and/or film, you don’t have to turn it over it to them. If they take it by
force or threaten you, they can be liable for things like assault,  theft and
coercion. Remember even law enforcement needs a court order.

What Happens If They Get In My Face?

  • Be respectful and polite. Use good judgement and don’t escalate the situation.
  • If the person becomes combative, ugly or difficult, dial 911.
  • Threats, detention, and snatching your camera are all grounds for
    legal or civil actions on your part. Remember to get the person’s name,
    rank and number as well their employer, and what legal grounds they
    they think they have that justifies their actions.
  • Go above the person’s
    head and speak with their supervisor or their company’s public relations department.
  • Call local TV and radio stations and see if they want to do a story about your civil liberties.
  • Publish the story on the web yourself if you find it necessary.

Web Resources

Also posted on 12 12 Artblog.


2 thoughts on “Photographers Rights

  1. Very interesting stuff. I think it probably has more to do with if the photo is commercially successful. The subject of the photo would probably want a cut. As for my kids, unless it was a crowd shot, I think I would want to be notified that someone took a photo of one of my children. It is a thin line, ya know?


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