Photography Is Not A Crime

by Ed Lau on February 26, 2009

There seems to be a disturbing trend in today’s “security conscious” (read: paranoid) world where photographers are treated as criminals. Before you ask, paparazzi are not photographers. Neither are those sickos hiding in bushes near playgrounds. I’m talking about serious hobbists and professionals that have a real passion for their work.

A recent TWiP podcast mentioned a court case in Europe where the judge deemed that any picture taken regardless of publication is a violation of privacy rights. This began as a case in a hospital that took pictures of newborns as a service to new parents. A certain couple wasn’t happy with this and asked for the negatives, which the company that did the photos refused to hand over. Now this seems rather straight forward and I agree with it. I mean, a hospital probably shouldn’t have a service like this for these exact reasons. A hospital probably doesn’t count as a public place either. However, this case could set a dangerous precedent and have important implications that affect all photographers.

The ruling that came from the European Court of Human Rights specifically states that taking a picture of anyone in a public place, regardless of whether it is published, is a violation of their privacy rights. To me, this was the wrong ruling to make in this case and encompasses too much.

This essentially outlaws all tourism photography in Europe as it is nearly impossible to take a picture in any hotspot without having some other fellow tourists in it. Ever tried to take a picture of the Eiffel Tower without other people in it? Because of the ECHR’s ruling in this case, all those rent-a-cops that tell us to leave now have legal precedent to actually do so rather than having me tell them to bugger off.

Are You Allowed To Take That Picture?

I have people ask me this all the time since I do, in fact, have quite a few pictures of people that I took in public places without their permission. As common courtesy, if someone really objects to me taking their picture, I usually don’t do it but usually most people don’t care. However, it’s important to know your rights as a photographer. If you are in a public place, that essentially voids any sort of right to privacy in terms of photographs. Obviously you can’t take a picture of someone while they’re in their house or their backyard but if you’re walking around the Hachiko crossing in Shibuya, then all’s fair.

You cannot, however, publish anything with a person’s likeness without their consent if it is in a commercial capacity. If you’re selling someone’s picture to an ad agency to use in some sort of magazine or whatever, that requires a model release but as a editorial or artistic function, you do not.

What makes all this worse is that often I’m picked out of the crowd by rent-a-cops…or real cops in some cases…due to the size and implied cost of my camera equipment. People with little point-and-shoots never get harassed but the fuzz has often told me to beat it because my camera “looks expensive” or “professional”. Of course, none of that matters and in turn, I usually tell them about my exact rights.

As a general rule, you can take pictures of anything and anyone in a public place. Owners of private property can tell you not to take pictures while on their property but they can’t tell you not to take pictures while you’re on other property. They also cannot confiscate any of your film, memory or other equipment.

If you’re curious about any of your rights as a photographer, here’s a great legal site for this exact issue. Of course, with this new ruling coming down in Europe, I’m not sure how well this will hold up there.

in Current Events,Photography,Travel

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Shawn Knight February 27, 2009 at 1:15 am

Something else that bothers me along these same lines… have you ever noticed how some concerts or even sporting events prohibit the use of “professional cameras” or “removable lens cameras”? I have run into this issue twice. Once at a 3-day music fest where normal point-n-shoot cameras were allowed, but “professional cameras” were banned. The other was at the local hockey game, where the sign read “camera’s with lens over 3″ in length prohibited”.

Why should I be discriminated against for having a nice camera? Excuse me if I would like to take a picture with something besides a cell phone.


Sam February 28, 2009 at 3:38 am

This is a good read. Good to learn more about what I can take pix of. Sth I learned: don’t take pictures of kids. just don’t. I don’t care, you probably don’t care, but somewhere, it’ll get ya into trouble.


Ed Lau February 28, 2009 at 4:04 am

It’s probably not a great idea to do so but there’s no legal reason against taking pictures of children. There’s actually no laws against taking pictures of anything in public.


Thrifty March 3, 2009 at 12:16 am

This was a really great read, I didn’t know that just taking a photo could be so much trouble,and that there are rule to that, I do know that most concerts and certain events have come up with no camera rule, and I do understand this but come you at a concert one wants a memory of that event. It is good to know that there isn’t a actual law of taking a photo in public


Shopping warehouse Guide July 27, 2012 at 1:46 am

there in no law of taking a photo in public like thifty said, but if you are gifted you can earn extra bucks if you are familiar with news people.


Tampa's Best Wedding Photographers November 7, 2012 at 7:46 pm

It is a little ridiculous how everything is so protected and crazy these days. Too bad we have to be so cautious!


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