Monday, March 17, 2008

The Ten Legal Commandments of Photography

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

Snacking in Vienna Airport 1

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

III. If you are on private property and are asked not to take pictures, you are obligated to honor that request. This includes posted signs.

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

Waiting in the Airport 7

V. People can be photographed if they are in public (without their consent) unless they have secluded themselves and can expect a reasonable degree of privacy. Kids swimming in a fountain? Okay. Somebody entering their PIN at the ATM? Not okay.

VI. The following can almost always be photographed from public places, despite popular opinion:
accident & fire scenes, criminal activities
bridges & other infrastructure, transportation facilities (i.e. airports)
industrial facilities, Superfund sites
public utilities, residential & commercial buildings
children, celebrities, law enforcement officers
UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, Chuck Norris

Waiiting in the Airport 6

VII. Although “security” is often given as the reason somebody doesn’t want you to take photos, it’s rarely valid. Taking a photo of a publicly visible subject does not constitute terrorism, nor does it infringe on a company’s trade secrets.

VIII. If you are challenged, you do not have to explain why you are taking pictures, nor do you have to disclose your identity (except in some cases when questioned by a law enforcement officer.)

Waiting in the Airport 5

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

X. If someone tries to confiscate your camera and/or film, you don’t have to give it to them. If they take it by force or threaten you, they can be liable for things like theft and coercion. Even law enforcement officers need a court order.

What To Do If You’re Confronted
Be respectful and polite. Use good judgement and don’t escalate the situation.
If the person becomes combative or difficult, think about calling the police.
Threats, detention, and taking your camera are all grounds for legal or civil actions on your part. Be sure to get the person’s name, employer, and what legal grounds they claim for their actions.
If you don’t want to involve the authorities, go above the person’s head to their supervisor or their company’s public relations department.
Call your local TV and radio stations and see if they want to do a story about your civil liberties.
Put the story on the web yourself if need be.

From Photojojo! a really useful and inspiring photography site!
Photojojo warns "None of this should be construed as legal advice. If you have a legal issue, get in touch with a lawyer. Much of this information was gleaned from attorney Bert P. Krages‘ website, so we’ll go ahead and recommend him."


Lynda said...

Hmmm I thought about this issue when I took the pic of the two likely lads at the mall (disgused the photo taking as part of a group pic). I think this might all work well in the US or Canada... but in Egypt they put bloggers in jail that say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing... hope I don't go down that path. Very interesting information. I now know what I will be doing when waiting at the airport on the weekend.

Anonymous said...

Doesn't stop it from being bad manners.

Miss Kim said...

Hummm... Owen- that's a VERY good point and one I should have considered. Thanks for pointing it out to me.

Lynda... I suppose if we take a photo (sneakily) then there's probably something not quite right about doing it even if it might be legal. Something to think about eh?

virtual nexus said...

Very good post.

Not sure of the legal why's and wherefores, but it's no longer ok to take photos of children in public places here in the UK;(your own are an exception)- and because of terrorist issues, its no longer permissible to take photos in the local Mall without permission from the management; pictures of security guards arn't allowed.

virtual nexus said...

...just to say I've had a look round on google , and have written a linked post to this on the situation in the UK.

swenglishexpat said...

Isn't it interesting how photos taken of people who are unaware of it, often turn out so well, just like the ones in you post? Otherwise I think that the 10 commandments mirror the fact that we live in a free world, or don't we?. However I agree with Owen about manners.