The Ten Legal Commandments of Photography
- 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.
- 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.
- If you are on private property and are asked not to take pictures,
you are obligated to honor that request. This includes posted signs.
- Sensitive government buildings (military bases, nuclear facilities)
can prohibit photography if it is deemed a threat to national security.
- 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.
- The following can almost always be photographed from public places,
despite popular opinion:
- accident and fire scenes, criminal activities
- bridges and other infrastructure, transportation facilities
- industrial facilities, Superfund sites
- public utilities, residential and commercial buildings
- children, celebrities, law enforcement officers
- UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, Chuck Norris
- 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.
- If you are challenged, you do not have to explain why you are taking
pictures, nor to you have to disclose your identity (except in some
cases when questioned by a law enforcement officer.)
- Private parties have very limited rights to detain you against your
will, and can be subject to legal action if they harass you.
- 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
- If the person becomes combative or difficult, think about calling the
- 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
- 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.
- We've condensed these facts a great deal. We recommend downloading The
Photographer's Right and keeping a couple of copies in your camera
bag if you're shooting somewhere you might expect trouble.
- Andrew Kantor has written a good article and a PDF summary of your
rights, including some of the ins-and-outs of publishing your pictures.
- The Legal Handbook for Photographers is a great resource covering
all aspects of photography and the law.
Discretionary charges, such as disorderly conduct, loitering, disturbing
the peace and resisting arrest, are all too easily used to curtail expressive
conduct or retaliate against individuals for exercising their First Amendment
rights. ... Core First Amendment conduct, such as recording a police officer
performing duties on a public street, cannot be the sole basis for such