We’ve all heard and experienced it one time time or another. You’re just minding your own business taking a few snapshots with your Lomo cameras when out of nowhere, uniformed individuals accost you and demand that you either show them a permit or stop shooting. This is the war against photography. Know your rights!
Over the past two years, photography has enjoyed an exponential boom in interest, with everyone and their grandmas brandishing point & shoot digital cameras, DSLRs, and even the ubiquitous Iphone. But in line with this surge in popularity, there have been numerous accounts and cases of photographers, professional or otherwise, being accosted and even abused by the police and security guards. This is a worldwide phenomenon that has become so rampant that The British Journal of Photography has even launched “a campaign to counter the rising paranoia that targets every photographer who shoots images in public places.”
BJP goes on to say that “Increasing concerns about terrorism, pedophilia, health and safety, and personal privacy have resulted in a deep mistrust of photographers. Police routinely invoke anti-terror legislation to prevent photographers from carrying out their work, and photojournalists are constantly filmed at public gatherings and their details kept on an ever-growing database.”
Thankfully, this intense paranoia is slowly receding. In the settlement of the case of Antonio Musumeci against the Department of Homeland Security in the USA, photography won a hard-fought battle. Under the settlement, announced Monday by the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Federal Protective Service said that it would inform its officers and employees in writing of the “public’s general right to photograph the exterior of federal courthouses from publicly accessible spaces” and remind them that “there are currently no general security regulations prohibiting exterior photography by individuals from publicly accessible spaces, absent a written local rule, regulation or order.”
“This settlement secures the public’s First Amendment right to use cameras in public spaces without being harassed,” said a statement issued by Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which represented Mr. Musumeci in Federal District Court.
View the full FPS Bulletin from the Department of Homeland Security.
As for the rest of the world, here’s a couple of tidbits about the do’s and don’ts regarding photography:
In the UK it is completely legal to take photographs in any public place. There are restrictions on photography for commercial use within Trafalgar Square, Parliament Square and the Royal Parks, but aside from that you can shoot wherever you like, so long as you’re on public ground! A landowner is permitted to impose any conditions they like as soon as you enter their property, so you may not be allowed to photograph within a shopping centre, office, home, theatre, gallery, or any other privately owned building- best to ask first.
However there are restrictions on who you can photograph, particularly the police, armed forces or security services. It is considered an offense under the Counter Terrorism Act 2008 to publish photographs of any of these people….but if you snap them it is not in their rights to take or destroy your film, they can ask you to stop but not enforce it, according to the metropolitan police guidelines
Shooting pictures in public areas in The Netherlands is a simple story but has a few important things to keep in mind.
In The Netherlands they distinguish two important things; taking pictures in public areas of structures and portraits. It’s completely legal to take pictures in public areas at all times of anything and anyone. But it’s all about what is captured and the purpose of capturing that image. Everyone is allowed to take pictures of buildings, shops, bridges or any other structure in a public area – in our outside. As long as that photography is not made for commercial purposes. Exceptions can be made by the owner of a building, company or other structure. Like the national Railway organization – they have restrictions of taking pictures of their employees working at stations and platforms. Or museums, pop venues and galleries could have restrictions for inside photography activities.
Portrait photography in public areas is a different story. An image is a “portrait” when there is an identifiable person in the picture. A portrait could be a photo, but also a drawing or a painting. And not only similar images are portraits, also a caricature is a portrait. On the other hand, a photograph of a football stadium with supporters like ‘dots’ in the picture, is not a portrait. It’s very hard to identify those supporters and the focus of the picture lies on the entire group of people instead of one person. A person’s face on a picture is the most common form of a portrait, but a characteristic posture of a identifiable person could be seen as a portrait as well. Think of a silhouette image of Charlie Chaplin. Once you capture a portrait – the person on the picture has got “portrait rights”. Which basically means he or she has the right to decide what the will happen with that picture. Even when the picture is made in public area.
In Brazil, it is officially allowed to photograph in public spaces as since as these images basically do not implicate commercial publication and/or do not harm people´s integrity,honor or dignity which, in other words it is said in Brazilian civil rights (Chapter II “Individuality Rights”).Therefore, capturing images in public spaces should not be a problem, moreover, if you really want to photograph inside a federal/governmental building, you are able too, as long as you have an authorization in hands and obey the conditions above.
As long as the space you intend to shoot is open to the public and does not need any security control for access, you are free to take pictures because it is considered a public space with the same level of rights and obligations as any open street.
From the public street you can take pictures of any building even if you take the picture through the gate, as all you can see from the street is public domain. Obviously you can not hop on the gates, or put the camera inside. You can photograph any shop or building from the sidewalk, no one can tell you anything.
For example; private facilities (like shops, malls, etc) are considered public places during the opening hours to the public, and ruled by the same legislation. Nobody can tell “no photos, please” for example at a Lomography Store!
What to do when someone calls our attention:
Tell him it is our right (always with respect), he has not the right to forbid photographing the space. If the person or the security officer insists, you can safely say you’re not going to stop taking pictures, call the police if you like. If the persons tries to touch the camera to prevent you to take photos do not worry, this simple gesture is reportable as aggression. If he tells you to delete thee pictures or to take out the film from the camera, NEVER do that. You simply give the camera to him and if he is deleting the pictures or taken out the film of your camera, he is committing a big offense against intellectual property. Yo need to have a witness. When the police arrive, explain what happened and express your desire to precede a complaint of assault and intellectual property crime. You’ll see how his face changes immediately.
In public locations spaces without metal detector, identification, etc., the shooting is completely legal. If not, you have to to ask someone responsible.
People in public locations or in the street:
If we take a picture with less than three people on it, that image can be used for illustrating a newspaper article or similar, but not for commercial or advertising purposes. Otherwise you need to get the permission of these people or pay for it.
If there more than three people in the photo, this considered as a group. This image can be used for commercial and advertising purposes without permission.
Here in Canada, the laws are generally tailored to people’s rights and freedoms, in which we do have a lot of. Depending on what province you are in, slightly different laws can be applied to allow you to release your creative outlet while still respecting the rights of others. For the most part, Ontario has more restrictions than the rest of the nation. Though, these restrictions usually pertain to commercial photographers.
As Lomographic shooters, we aim to take pictures for more private and artistic purposes. As such, there are only a few rules that we need to keep in mind while shooting in public. In a detailed guideline of laws for photographers by AmbientLight.ca, the author lets us know what we can or can’t shoot. Reading over the limitations, it is safe to say that everything is easily open to interpretation, and so, as a photographer, it leaves us many options to work our way in and out of sticky situations.
Other than the usual minding of properties and signs, and security, it is good to note that though private property is individually managed or owned, if it is open to the public and has no visual indicators of limitations to shoot photographs, one is indeed allowed to shoot away unless otherwise told not to by management due to privacy/confidentiality issues. Take for instance any government institution. Those buildings are in some areas opened to public and closed off in others for security purposes. Guards will always be visible throughout the buildings and they can you to only taking photos of what is open to the public, but can technically prevent you from going beyond a certain point where you can capture all or a part of something meant to be confidential. I should also mention that the laws state restrictions of where to shoot, and leaves the ambiguity of allowing anything not listed as “restricted” as being perfectly legal. Pretty much, you are not banned from taking pictures, but you are limited to where you stand to take that picture.
Hence, if you don’t breach privacy of another person’s rights, or you’re not trespassing on places that have indicated their property, and if you’re wary of any notices or rules set, go forth and shoot!
Visit AmbientLight for more information on Canadian Laws Pertaining to Photographers!
Have you experienced anything similar to this while shooting? Let us know in the comments!