STREET PHOTOGRAPHY & YOUR RIGHTS AS A PHOTOGRAPHER
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This is a topic that confuses people all the time, and you probably easily find any definitive “written-down-in-law” documentation about this subject because it is something which is a conglomeration of many different legal concepts and international treaties. While things vary from country to country, for 99.999% of the population the following information is everything you need to know about your Rights as a Photographer…
Please note that this information does not constitute Legal Advice.
This is simply the basic condensed information that will be adequate for most Amateur Photographers around the world today.
If you have any concerns about your Rights as a Photographer, you should consult a qualified Legal Representative.
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In its simplest terms, you are allowed to take photographs in public and you are also allowed to display them in galleries or online or anywhere else you choose, and you are quite within your rights to sell those images also!
And you are allowed to do this without anyone’s permission! If not – every tourist and news organisation would be commiting an offence every day of the week!
There are, however, a few things that you need to understand…
1 – The Definition of “Public Space”
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Public Space is basically any place which people can freely access, like streets, parks, roads, beaches etc. If it is “outside” of any places that are owned by other people, then it is probably a Public Space.
A Council building is NOT a Public Space simply because it is a government bulding and therefore “of the people”, the same applies to Night Clubs, Sporting Venues, Shopping Centres etc … Just because people can access them – it does not make them “Public Spaces” – because they are privately owned.
Knowing the definition of a Public Space is important, because when you are in a Public Space, you are allowed to photograph anything that you can see from where you are standing. You can even photograph INTO Private Property – providing what you are photographing is readilly visible to anyone. [basically – if you have to climb up a ladder, or a tree, or get on the roof of a car etc to get a picture of something that is in Private Property, then you are breaking the Law.]
The basic tenet behind all of this is that it is a legal concept that any person who is in a Public Space has tacitly given up their rights to privacy.
The upshot for photographers is this: if it is in a Public Space, or readily visible from a Public Space, then you are allowed to take a picture of it and display it, and sell it.
An update from RB Member Stefan Fletcher:
Photographing a person in France in an ‘individualised’ (i.e., recognisable) manner without his or her consent is a criminal offence.
France has some very stringent privacy laws. If you photograph an individual without consent in such a way that s/he is the main subject and or easily identifiable even in a public place, – you may face criminal (not civil) prosecution (article 226-2 of the French Criminal Code).
It is allowed to photograph groups in a public place without obtaining the consent of each individual provided that no single individual is the primary subject. There are some exceptions (performing artists, public personalities), but they are definitely the exception to a very firm rule which is very firmly applied.
There are some other “restrictions” that you also need to consider when doing Street Photography…
2 – You should not photograph “High Risk” or High Security Facilities…
These days, photographing any High Risk Facility is just asking for trouble. While technically you may be “legally” allowed to photograph anything that can be seen from a public space, it is best to avoid the kind of grief that comes with taking pictures of those things!.
This doesn’t mean that you can not photograph Parliament House, or Big Ben, or the Tower or London etc etc… just don’t point your lens at any Military installations, Nuclear Power Stations etc … and don’t do it late at night while sneaking around in the shadows…
While we are talking about things you should not photograph…
In some countries, it is legal to photograph Police and Security Personel.
In some countries that is. …
Apparently you are not allowed to photograph the Carabinieri in Italy… They carry sub machine guns – so who am I to argue?
I found out about this the hard way!
Its a shame really, because they do look awesome in their dark blue suits!
Now while it may be legal in some countries… I would advise caution when doing so. You may legally be allowed to do so, but that may not stop a shit-load of grief coming down on your head!
Basically be about where you point your lens!
[ IMAGE USED FOR DISPLAY PURPOSES ONLY. NO INVITATION TO CRITIQUE THIS IMAGE SHOULD BE INFERRED BY ITS INCLUSION HERE ] TIMES SQUARE NY CITY by JEAN M. LAFFITAU
3 – You can not use an image of a person for “Commercial Purposes” – without their permission.
Commercial Purposes Photography generally requires what is known as a “Model Release” for people and a “Photography Permit” for certain places [some Public Facilities like National Parks, streets, public infrastructure etc] – but unless you are a professional photographer who makes their living from doing Commercial Photography, you really wont need to worry about this.
There is a lot of confusion about what “Commercial Purposes” actually means.
It does NOT mean that you sell your images [either online or from galleries] for profit … that is perfectly legal.
4 – You should not use an image of another person in a defamatory or embarrassing way.
You must not take a photo of a person, then use it to advertise the latest brothel that has started in your town, since this would constitute both Commercial Purposes and using their image in such a way that could be reasonably expected to cause them embarrassment.
Imagine someone takes a photo of you walking down the street [perfectly ok to do so!] Then they composite your image onto a Billboard that includes a picture of the new brothel and the words “I love this place – its the best in town!”
Yep … you are not allowed to do that – without the person’s permission!
5 – Reproduction of Copyrighted things.
Say you are in Times Square New York City. You take a photo of that amazing Coca Cola Billboard. Depending on your photo – you may breach Copyright.
If the image is of nothing else but that bilboard ie… all you have done is to reproduce the copyrighted Coca Cola Logo – then you may well get in trouble if you ever display it or sell it.
If, however, the Billboard is simply a part of the larger scene [traffic, people, buildings. sky, etc etc…] then that is fine.
In general terms, the image should not predominantly be about the copyrighted item.
Otherwise… you are perfectly within your legal rights to take photos in the street, then display them, and sell them however you like. And if any Copper or Security Guard thinks otherwise… just ask them to quote the section of the law that says you can not.
Please note that Being rude to a Police Officer is a in France (outrance à magistrature is the technical term) [information supplied by Stefan Fletcher] – so the best policy is always to conduct yourself in a respectful manner when dealing with any Police Officers.
Either way… whatever you do when it comes to Street Photography, you will probably not be committing a CRIMINAL Offence. Using an image of a person for Commercial Purposes – without their permission – is a CIVIL Offence in most countries. That person would then have to sue you, and while people tend to threaten this alllllll the time, the reality is that unless it can be shown that the person has suffered severe financial losses due to your image, then it is unlikely that any Lawyer would take on the case [what would be in it for them?]
The same applies for using an image of a person [without their permission] in a defamatory or embarrassing way… unless it can be shown that the person’s reputation has been damaged in such a way as to cause major financial repurcussions…. well…. most Lawyers wouldn’t bother.
So, in a nutshell, when it comes to Street Photography, this is what you need to remember:
- If it is outdoors [parks, roads, beaches etc…], in an area not owned by another person or business, then it is most likely a “Public Space”.
- You are allowed to photograph anything you can readily see from where ever you are standing in a Public Space.
- You do not need anyone’s permission to take their photograph, display it or sell it – if they are in a Public Space, … providing:
- You do not use the image for Commercial Purposes.
- The image does not embarrass or defame a person in any way.
- The Definition of Commercial Purposes is “to use an image to Promote [advertise] another Person, Product or Enterprise.”
- Don’t be stupid. Don’t take pictures of things like High-Risk Government Facilities [Military Installations, Nuclear Power Stations etc…] You might be legally allowed to do so – but you are simply asking for ten types of trouble!
- Finally, don’t be sneaky. Be open and honest about what you are doing. Good manners and respectfull behaviour will get you a lot further and will get you better pictures!
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