Photographer RightsWe all live in a post-9/11 world, where security issues have affected the way the average photographer operates. Even the most seemingly innocent activities, like taking tourist photos of landmarks, photographing playing children, or just carrying a camera around, have resulted in many photographers being confronted by security personnel or being viewed with suspicion. In some cases, photographers are told to surrender their gear, their film, and/or their memory cards. In New York, photographers have been told not to take photos on the subway. So what exactly are the rights of a photographer?
In the United States, the exact rules can vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Thus, it's only possible to provide general guidelines, rather than specific legal advice. A number of websites exist with good guides to the rights of a photographer, including:
- http://www.krages.com/phoright.htm Nice PDF format guide on rights.
- http://www.rcfp.org/photoguide/ An excellent, state-by-state guide to privacy.
- http://www.mobar.org/press/medhnbk3.htm A primer on privacy from the Missouri Bar Association.
Generally speaking, a photographer who is in an area accessible to the public can take photograph, so if you're standing outside a building or in a park or on the sidewalk, you are able to take a photograph. Even on private property, like a mall, you can take a photograph. Granted, mall security could throw you out, but they couldn't take your camera or your film/memory card, at least not without exposing themselves to legal consequences. Remember though, these are just general observations and not legal advice.
Some other things to remember though--it's important to respect a person's expressed right to privacy and it's important to always be professional and polite when dealing with police or security personnel who may approach you. So, even if you're standing on the sidewalk, using a super-duper telephoto lens to get a shot of a topless celebrity inside their residence 1/2 a mile away probably would be construed as an invasion of privacy. Likewise, acting in a disruptive manner with police when asked about your photography could get you into trouble completely unrelated to the photography. You might want to consider printing out one of the guides above (Krage's guide is designed for this) and carry it with you. In addition, always carry a photo identification, produce it promptly when requested, and above all, remain polite and respectful.
Outside the United States, what a photographer can or cannot do will obviously vary. For example, in Australia, after a man was convicted for covertly using his cell phone to photograph topless women on a beach, it appeared that Australia was moving towards making all photography on Australian beaches illegal. However, subsequent cases made it clear that while photography on beaches may be legal, offensive behavior may not be. In France, there are much stronger restrictions on photography than in the U.S., where the publication of photos without the consent of any person in the photos is illegal. Some overseas photography rights guides include:
- http://www.sirimo.co.uk/ukpr.php A guide for UK photographers
- http://www.4020.net/unposed/rightssummary/nswphotorights.pdf Australia guide for Australian photographers
Finally, let me point you towards an excellent webpage on photographer behavior, which has some excellent tips on how to deal with law enforcement:
It's definitely harder these days to be a photographer or even a tourist with a camera these days. Photography in the U.S. is not only about art, but also about exercising Constitutional rights. The current war on terror is about protecting those rights, so it's important that both photographers and security personnel behave professionally or we will all be losers.