If you don’t ever want to end up like Rocky with your face all swollen because some security personnel decided you were a national threat, or you want to be completely sure that you can take that shot of your favorite celebrity pissing in the garden, this guide is meant to give you some clarity over what you can and can’t do with your camera.
You can go ahead and scroll through the sections, or simply use this handy navigation menu to read about specific topics of your interest.
If you're in a rush, you can go straight to the summary at the bottom of each section.
Security is a major concern in the world these days. Authorities are constantly in a state of alert, which means that it is likely that free expression can be thwarted in the name of safety. Photographers DO have legal rights and as an artist, you have to acknowledge them to have enough means to protect yourself against abuse.Rules vary slightly from country to country, but general notions apply universally.
Can I Take Photographs at ...?
One of the first things to take into consideration when you're about to take a photo is to know where you are and whether you're allowed to take photos in there, I know, we all wish we could just pull out our memory-catching machines and start making magic, but we do have to be aware.
The Shopping Mall
Award winning photographer Scott Rensberger was arrested last year for taking photographs in a West Virginia shopping mall.
Yes, you can take pics at the shopping mall. However, if a security guard or some representative of the mall’s administration asks you to stop, you've gotta do it. Even tho malls are open to the public, they are private buildings and, as such, the owners or administrators have the right to ban photography on their premises. They usually argue security and copyright infringement reasons to justify photograph prohibition, but in the long run, that's pure bollocks.
Now, although mall staff can ban you from photographing, taking photographs in the mall is by no means an illegal act and is not subject to any kind of reprimand whatsoever. Not that we at the Shock Family want to encourage any uncivilized activity by our kind readers. No, not at all. But, as a tip, if you desperately need to take shots in a mall, you can exercise your right to go commando creative. Of course, you can always go on the path of the good Mamma’s boy, be the Paul McCartney of your band and ask for a proper permit days ahead of your assignment.
- Yes, you can take photographs inside shopping malls unless otherwise stated.
- Malls are private buildings open to the public. If you're asked not to take pics, don't do it.
- It is advised to ask for a proper permit days ahead of your visit.
Yes, you can take photographs at the airport although several conditions may apply. Airports are also private installations that allow public access. Being a space with free public access makes it open to any kind of informal photography. But as it is still a private-owned building, you are obliged to stop taking shots if the airport administration asks you to.
Many aviation and photography enthusiasts enjoy plane-spotting, which is the practice of taking photographs of tail numbers.
Also, security issues apply depending on the political thermostat of the time and the country you are in. The Patriot act and the homeland security act in the United States expressly prohibit photography at security checkpoints. Iran, Venezuela, and other countries have similar prohibitions that you should be aware of before using your camera.
If you are planning to do elaborate shots in an airport using a tripod, lights or models, you cannot take any pictures without a proper permit. In some airports, it is completely free, and you just have to issue a petition letter. As security measures have increased throughout the world, many of these hobbyists have been arrested. In early 2010, two English men were arrested near New Delhi because Police considered their practices “suspicious”.
- As well as malls, airports are private installations in which if you're asked not to take pictures, you should accept.
- Different countries have more strict or more flexible laws, but airports are usually pretty security-first.
- Two English men were arrested in New Delhi India for "suspicious" activities.
This is a depiction of lawyer Jon Schuyler Brooks questioning Gao Min in court. by artist P. Walsh. Photographs of trials are strictly prohibited and are a grave criminal offense.
It is completely illegal to take a photograph in any courtroom of ANY person, be it the accused, the judge, a juror, or a witness. Ever wonder why TV news always shows those trial drawings? It is a criminal offense to register on video or photography any criminal proceeding. This includes photographs taken in a courtroom or the precincts of the court.
Only a few courtrooms will allow photography and broadcasting practices inside it, of course, after granting a strict permit the party or parties interested in it.
- No, it is actually illegal to take photographs inside courtrooms around the world.
- Very few courtrooms would allow photography and broadcasting practices with a strict permit.
- Courtroom sketches are performed instead to leave graphic register of the court sessions.
An illegally taken shot of the Sistine Chapel in The Vatican city. as this is a stealth photo, you can see the quality is not the best. Most well buy the postcards.
It depends on the museum, and on the exhibition. But the general answer is a big “NO” to commercial photography and a “maybe” to informal shots for private use only. There are copyright infringement, conservational, and security reasons for this, although museums around the world are working on the issues to keep up with this new era of camera-per-pocket and Flickr sharing.
First off, museums must respect complicated and varied intellectual property agreements with donors and lenders. In any given exhibition, you could find that only a few artworks are cleared for reproduction, which makes it difficult for the museum’s administration to control where and what to photograph. It’s easier overall to apply a general restriction.
Another issue museums have to deal with is the integrity of the art they behold. Paintings and sculptures may be damaged by flash photography and increased light levels.
So it’s better if you check the museum's website before you break in shooting away everything at sight
- Generally, you can't due to copyright infringement, conservational and/or security reasons.
- Museums must respect diverse and complicated intellectual property with donors and lenders.
- The integrity of the paintings and sculptures might be damaged by the flash of the cameras.
Photographs at sporting events are usually permitted only to accredited press.
The general rule is that you can’t since you could be giving away with your photographs material that people are charged to see, thus affecting their revenue stream. This allegation against photography is also used by theaters, cinemas, and museums. If people can film the event and broadcast it on the net…why should you pay a ticket to go? Although this is not completely true, (the experience of a live spectacle is not comparable to anything) it is true that event illegal broadcasting does hurt financially.
There are also copyright infringement issues. Every sports team has their logo and imagery tightly copyrighted. So it is ok if your photos are intended for private, educational and editorial purposes (if you are a credited photo reporter). But you can’t use them in any case for commercial and advertising intents.
- Generally, and similarly to theaters, cinemas, and museums, photographs (let alone video recording/streaming) are not allowed since you'd be giving away the experience people are charged for.
- Copyright infringement issues are also involved due to sport teams logos and imagery.
- If you're a credited photo reporter it should be OK as long as you have private, educational or editorial purposes.
Can I Take Photographs of ...?
So many times there you go around taking pictures of whatever catches your eye and what not, that's the whole point of it, save all those little things that compose the moments we live as a memory in a few shots, not realizing sometimes whether you've offended somebody or crossed somebody's rights by taking photos directly or indirectly of certain assets, expontaneous events, or even people's faces or bodies. Here's a brief explanation of the most common cases for you to keep in mind every time you take a shot.
In Germany and other countries like Australia, there is a concept called Panoramafreiheit which means Freedom of Panorama. This is an exception in the copyright laws that allow taking pictures or creating other images such as paintings and 3D renders of buildings and sculptures which are permanently located in a public place without infringing any copyright that may subsist in such works, and to publish such images. Usually, only the copyright holder has the exclusive right of authorizing creation or distribution of derivative works. This law is an exception.
Zaha Hadid vs. the Pirates: Wangjing SOHO project by Zaha Hadid in Beijing, pirated by third parties and replicated in Chongqing, a southwestern city in China.
This legislation varies greatly from country to country. There are many countries that have completely different laws, like Italy, where you cannot publish photographic reproductions of public or historic buildings without proper authority clearance. Other countries like Belgium and France have a mild Panoramafreiheit law where you can sell your photos if the buildings are depicted under incidental inclusion clauses.
- Panoramafreiheit means Freedom of Panorama, this concept applies in Germany, Australia, and other countries.
- It allows you to take pictures or create paintings or 3D renders of any building or sculpture permanently shown in public.
- It varies a lot. In Italy, you have to own a special permit to take and publish public or historic buildings, in Belgium and France, there's no such restriction.
Google Sued for Posting Picture of Private House: Aron and Christine Boring are suing Google for violating their privacy and causing them mental distress.
Private property is any ground not open to the public. (buildings, offices, houses.) Property owners can legally prohibit you from taking pictures on their premises, but have no right from obstructing photographs of their property taken from other spaces, particularly public grounds. Of course, there are some circumstances that you may reasonably assume that it is fair to take shots inside a private premise, like if you are at a wedding or at a press conference. In the majority of cases, it is a judgment call depending on the circumstance, but remember that if the property owner asks you to stop, you have to.
If a photograph shows private property in such a way that a viewer of the photo can identify the owner of the property, the ASMP (American Society of Media Photographers, Inc.) recommends that a property release should be used if the photograph is to be used for advertising or commercial purposes.
Why take the trouble to make a release? Things don’t have rights do they?
Well, people do. And people’s rights can be damaged by association with objects. For example, you could get angry if you found out that some drug addiction rehab program is advertising their services with a photograph of your house or your car… Or your dad in pajamas standing on the porch with his shotgun.
- Property owners can legally prohibit you from taking pictures on their premises, but have no right from obstructing photographs of their property taken from other spaces, particularly public grounds.
- American Society of Media Photographers, Inc. recommends that a release should be used if a photo in which the viewer can identify the owner of the property is to be used for commercial purposes.
- People's rights can be infringed by association with objects, e.g. a photo of a person standing in front of their house used in a drug addiction rehab program campaign.
So, you might need a property release form. Check out an example here.
In may 2010, Australian actor Ernie Dingo considered taking legal action against a woman that was attempting to sell photographs of the actor taken in the shower.
You can photograph anybody who’s is in public view and doing anything not considered private. People on sidewalks, parks, beaches and other public spaces are considered a subject of legal photography.
But don’t get trigger happy, everybody is entitled to have a reasonable expectation of privacy, that is, to not be bothered regardless of whether they're in public or not. Everybody has the right to be left alone, fair enough. You can’t take pictures of people in a changing room, a health care facility or at the operating table (Yuck!).
You can’t take photos of people doing things considered private, as showering, taking a dump or making love unless you have the proper permission to do that.
You can’t photograph people when they're out of public view and in a private area, be it in a bedroom, a living room, bathroom or office. In many countries, persistent and aggressive photography of a single individual can be considered as harassment.
Voyeurism is also a concern in many countries as cell phones and other mobile devices are a peeping Tom’s dream. Indecent acts like "up-skirting" or "down-blousing" are subject to legal action. By common law, it's not a crime, but countries can (and most have already) make it a criminal offense by legislation, in South Korea and Japan, all phones must make a loud a clear sound whenever a picture is taken. So put that thing down, or else...!
- Basically, you can, as long as the people you're taking photos of are not doing anything considered private, or in a private area (showering, making love, in the changing room, their bedroom, etc.)
- Everybody is entitled to have a reasonable expectation of privacy, so as to not be bothered regardless of whether in public or not. Excessive reiteration of photographing the same person is considered harassment in many countries
- Indecent actions like voyeurism (e.g. "upskirting" or "down-blousing") are considered subject to legal action in most countries.
While shopping, mother realizes that Elaine, her kid's photo, was badly Photoshopped and used by a Chinese Halloween customs company to advertise their products.
Yes, you can take pictures of children without their parents' permission, but as long as you are not invading the child’s privacy. And as long as your photos are for private use only.
You cannot give children’s photographs any commercial use unless you have a model release signed by the minor's parents or legal guardians. This includes family snapshots and other portraits of the sort where the children figure is an important and recognizable subject in the picture.
Child pornography is a delicate and sensible problem in society. When dealing with photo shoots that require bathing scenes of children or similar situations that can be interpreted as child nudity, it’s better that you consult your lawyer first. There is a famous case in Arizona, where a normal family dropped some digital photos to be printed in local Wallmart. In that batch of more than a hundred photos, there were eight photographs that depicted the couple’s children fooling around naked in the tub. The clerk of the printing facility thought they were inappropriate and turned them over to the police. That was a beginning of a long legal battle for the couple to prove they were not child molesters. Read about the whole case at abc news.
- Yes, you can photograph children without their parents' permission as long as you're not invading the child's privacy, and the photos aren't used commercially.
- For commercial use of children' photographs, you must issue a model release signed by the minor's parents or legal guardians. Here is an example.
- Extreme care must be taken when nudity is involved in photos of kids (even them being totally innocent), a couple got in legal trouble when trying to get printed innocent shots of their kids fooling around in the tub.
Yes. Celebrities in public view can be photographed. Laws apply as with any ordinary person. You are free to use those photos for private and educational purposes. You can even use the photograph for your website if the shot does not hurt in any way the celebrities public image. That means if the subject is not private, embarrassing or malicious nor misleading.
Ann Kirsten Kennis's photo featured in the band Vampire Weekend's album Contra, subject of a $2 million dollar allegation which was later won by the model after she was paid an undisclosed sum.
Model turned celebrity Kirsten Kennis sued the band Vampire Weekend for using her photography on their latest album release “Contra” for $2 million dollars. The Band and the photographer who took the photo, Tod Brody, say they have the proper model release, but she alleges its forged. By August 2011, Kennis was paid a disclosed sum leaving no further litigation between any of the parties involved.
- Yes, you can photograph celebrities that can be seen publicly, as well as anybody.
- You can only use the photos for private or educational purposes, or even post them in your website, only if the photo does not hurt in any way the integrity of the celebrity (private, malicious, embarrassing or misleading scenarios).
- Ann Kirsten Kennis won an allegation against the band Vampire Weekend for using with no permission her photo in Contra, their album's cover image.
Accidents or Crimes
Yes. Taking shots at accident scenes and law enforcement activities is usually legal. Foremost if you are shooting with a Tele from another location. What is illegal is to disrupt and hinder the rescue or enforcement activities taking place. If the police state that you have to leave the premises, you must.
Accident footage taken as aggressive police approaches and threatens 26-year-old photographer, later getting in trouble with the Police Commissioner.
They have the total authority to make judgment calls whether your presence is obstructing their job or not. More so in the U.K where they have the complete legal authority to detain you if they have a reasonable suspicion that you are a terrorist and your work has the intent of damaging people of property. But regarding specific cases, in general, accidents, fires or criminal police chases are considered newsworthy and can be used in fair use.
- Yes, you have the right to take as many shots of accident, crime scenes or any event that can be considered newsworthy.
- However, it is illegal to disrupt and hinder the rescue of enforcement activities taking place.
- If the police ask you to leave the premises, you must obey.
Can I Sell Photos of...?
So many times you've taken photos which, you'll bet anything, they would be amazing sellers, fair enough, you will always do as much as it is possible to withdraw the outcomes of such endeavors. So simply feel free to trade with them all at whatever price you reckon is fair, but of course, unless you want to end up involved in trouble, make sure that your freedom sticks within the legal frame. Here are some scenarios you'll most definitely find useful at some stage of your career.
Soledad Félix, shocked as she finds in a cigarette warning advertising a photo of herself 4 years and a half behind being in the hospital's Intensive Care Unit after suffering a heart-attack.
While it is legal in almost any case to take photographs, selling and publishing those photos is another ballpark. You can infringe several laws regarding privacy and copyright. Be aware you can be sued.
If someone is featured prominently in a photograph, (not incidentally) you have to ask that person for a release permit if you want to sell the photograph for publication. (you can check a model release form example here.)
Marc and Sylvia Day sued the photographer they hired for their wedding because they disapproved the shots he took. They won the legal action and were awarded for compensation. Taking photographs under hire does not exclude you of responsibilities.
In 2005, Los Angeles Times reported that Nestle company was ruled by a court to pay $15 million dollars because it used a model's picture without taking care of the paperwork.
The person has to give you the explicit permission to use that picture. If not, any recognizable subject in your photographs can take serious legal action against you if they consider your photo is damaging personally or financially.
You are OK to sell your photographs of people without any release forms if your photographs feature unrecognizable subjects, (crowds for example) or your photographs have editorial, factual, and newsworthy purposes.
- If you're selling a photography in which a person is prominently featured, you need to get them to do a release form that gives you the proper permit from them to do so.
- Any recognizable subject in the photograph could sue you for large amounts of money unless certain conditions such as the person being in a crowd while a newsworthy event is happening.
- Any subject recognizable in photographs you take and publish or sell can take serious legal action against you if they consider personal or financial damage on them.
No… And yes. For celebrities, their public image is their most precious asset. Celebrities live from endorsing many products and are paid big bucks for their fame. Commercial use of a celebrity’s picture without their consent is an infraction somewhat similar to copyright infringement. As crazy as it may sound, celebrities can protect their image as an author protects his work. This is known as “The right of publicity”.
"A person, firm or corporation that uses for advertising purposes, or for the purposes of trade, the name, portrait or picture of any living person without having first obtained the written consent of such person, or if a minor of his or her parent or guardian, is guilty of a misdemeanor."
— New York Civil Rights Law Section 50.
The Right of Publicity prevents the unauthorized commercial use of a person’s name, image, likeness, reputation, or other characteristic aspects of identity. If you use or sell for advertising purposes the image of a celebrity, you’re in risk of contravening a prior arrange of image exclusiveness. The public cannot be misled by a false impression that a celebrity recommends or endorses products or services they have not approved.
Katherine Heigl sued the pharmacy and convenience store chain Duane Reade for $6 million dollars for Tweeting a photo of her for branding/advertising purposes. Heigl accepted to dismiss the suit as Duane Reade made a contribution for an undisclosed sum to Jason Debus Heigl Foundation.
California, as many of you have imagined, has one of the most refined publicity laws' Civil code, in which even post-mortem publicity rights are granted for 75 years after death. The United States legislation is prone to curious and absurd cases, as it varies from State to State. The publicity laws that rule a certain person depend on the last state that person lived in before dying. One of such cases is the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright. His heirs do not hold any post-mortem exploitation privileges because he died in Wisconsin, where only living people have publicity rights.
And here comes the yes part. Albeit all these laws, you can still sell a celebrity photograph if it is a part of or the cause of a newsworthy event. Since celebrities are news all the time, there’s a good reason for tabloids to exist.
- Celebrities owe what is knows as "The right of publicity" which means that they can protect their image as some sort of copyright when it comes to them using products of specific brands, you can not use those type of photos for advertising purposes unless a contract is involved and explicit awareness of them.
- Publicity laws, in the U.S. at least, can get so serious with publicity rights to the point that in the Civil code od California, post-mortem rights are granted even for 75 years after the death.
- You can still sell photographies of celebrities as long as they're part of or the cause of newsworthy events, perfect material for the diverse tabloids available today.
What are my rights when ...?
Have you ever felt like your rights are being vulnerated? or wondered what to do in certain situations? Or perhaps become inhibit from doing a great job because you're not very sure whether you'll get in trouble with security guards or police? Check out these scenarios you might find familiar or result involved eventually.
A security guard forces me to delete my photos
Amateur photographer Bob Patefield was detained for eight hours for taking pictures at Christmas celebrations in Accrington. Police considered his activities as “antisocial behavior” and asked him for his details. He was detained after refusing to give his information and filmed the whole arrest.
They abso-bloody-lutely CAN'T force you to do so.
Your camera and its content are private property and no one has the right to get hold of your shots or equipment. Taking or deleting your stock with no court order, be it directly through their greasy hands, or indirectly, by threatening with calling the police can constitute a criminal offense and can be considered as theft, and coercion. Damaging or copying your photos can even be subject to copyright infringement.
All that they can do is ask you to stop taking photographs. And you are obliged to stop. They can even ask you to leave and accompany you out of the premises if you are feisty. But under no circumstance can they do anything to your camera or your photos.
Only Law enforcement agents can get hold of your photographs and only in two explicit cases; one if they have a court order, and two, in the process of an arrest if you get caught in a felony. But they cannot under any circumstance delete your photos because they would be damaging evidence. And that, as we have seen on C.S.I is illegal. TV does educate after all huh?
- They CAN NOT force you to do so, your camera and its content are private property and nobody has the right to get hold of your shots or equipment, if they do, it might be considered as .
- What they're in their right to do is ask you to stop taking photos and accompany you to leave the premises.
- Law enforcement agents can get hold of your photographs only if they have a court order or in the process of arrest if you get caught in a felony.
Private security attempts to detain me
Private parties have very limited rights to detain you, and although citizen arrest is legal, taking photographs is no justified reason for it. They can detain you, but not for taking photographs. They can do it if you are trespassing, stealing, breaking property or doing something out of a “The Clash” lyric.
Journalist Carlos Miller being tackled down and abused by 3 private security guards of the Miami Metrorail for filming in the station.
Harassment is a criminal offense and you have the right to not be bothered. By no means can a private security officer bully you or inflict damage to your precious body parts or equipment just because you are taking a photo. If someone has threatened or intimidated you because you were taking photographs, they may even be liable for such grave crimes such as assault, false imprisonment or kidnapping. In such cases, you have civil remedies against such persons and their employers for which you may be entitled to compensation.
So next time you are tortured and kept blindfolded in a two square meter cell, now you know you can sue them when you escape.
- Private security parties have rather limited rights to detain you, although photographs are not a justified reason for them to do it.
- Harassment is a criminal offense and you have the right of not being bothered, private security guards have no right of bullying or inflicting damage to you or your equipment for taking photos.
- Threats and intimidation may be considered as severe crimes such as assault, false imprisonment or kidnapping, for which you can sue them.
Law enforcement attempts to detain me
Law enforcement agents can detain you only if you are doing something against the law. And in such a case they can confiscate your equipment and stock in the arrest. But photography is an art. And as such you have the right (and it must be a duty!) to perform art. There are no laws that say that you can't perform art.
There is no general legislation against taking photos, laws that affect photographers are mostly about the subject of the photo and not about the act by itself of taking photos. Laws are made to protect the concept of property from being stolen or damaged. Property can be interpreted legally in many ways. It can be a persons’ image or privacy. It can be a person’s work (copyright), an entity’s reputation (trademark) or premises (land).
Neither the Patriot Act nor the Homeland Security Act officers have any provisions that restrict photography. But there are certain limitations that you have to be aware.
Shawn Nee was detained for filming the police a homeless person from a public sidewalk 90 feet away during documenting work about a homeless person, he was later taken to a police station and released without charges after an hour.
Commanders of military installations can prohibit photographs of specific areas when they deem it necessary to protect national security. Government entities like the U.S. Department of Energy can forbid photographs of infrastructure they consider would be a risk to expose. (Although if such buildings are publicly visible that means there are not a national safety secret after all and common sense dictates that they can be photographed.)
Only law enforcement agents are entitled to keep you from taking pictures and ban you from a certain location if they consider you are obstructing with their activities or endangering yourself and others. What they can’t do is prohibit you from taking pictures from another location.
- You can only be detained by law enforcement if you are doing something against the law, but photography is art and there are no laws that state specifically that you can not perform art.
- Rather than affecting the act of taking photos, law endorses the protection of the subject of the photo as property, call it copyright (someone's work), trademark (entity's reputation) or land (premises).
- Only law enforcement agents are entitled to restrict you from taking photos and ban you from certain locations if you're considered to be endangering yourself and others e.g. when taking photos of military installations.
I want to claim ownership of a photo
Copyright applies to most artistic works, such as paintings, sculpture, Film, music and photography. Copyright laws give you the exclusive right to make and sell copies of the photo; to create derivative works (other art based on the photo); to display the photo publicly, and to license usage to third for profit.
Copyright is assigned automatically by international law. You own a photograph as long as you are the one that pressed the shutter-release and all intellectual property issues are cleared. (that means that you have all releases and you aren’t depicting any protected material) Another story applies if you are a hired photographer working for somebody else. In that case, your employer is the copyright owner unless you have made any special arrangement subscribed under legal contract.
Naruto, the macaque that shot himself a selfie using wildlife photographer David Slater's camera in 2011. The PETA sued on the ape's behalf for him to get copyright for the photo but the US Copyright Office determined the copyrights can't be granted to either party. Slater has a British copyright of the photo.
Note that you make anything but private use with your photographs if you do not own them or have legal clearance to use them in any other way. Copyright laws are applicable 75 years after the author’s death.
- Copyrights are granted for artistic works like photos giving their creator the exclusive right to make and sell copies, create derivate works, display publicly, and/or to license third parties' commercial use.
- The copyright of a photograph is assigned automatically by international law as soon as its author presses the shutter-release for as long as 75 years past the decease of the author.
- If you're hired as a photographer working for somebody else, your employer owns the copyrights of the artwork unless you have made a special arrangement subscribed under legal contract.
Paparazzi and bully guards are two sides of the same coin of intolerance. Both are the two extremes that cross the thin line between freedom of speech and the right to privacy. As a photographer, you have to be aware of what you can and can’t do and always act with clear and fair judgment. Be friendly and talk firmly at all times and for Christ sakes take it easy. Common sense and technical manners are your best tools you have to get your work done without getting into trouble. As a general rule, remember that if the subject has a gun, it’s always better to put the camera away and run.
This post is made as a general guide, but there are subtle changes from country to country and state to state. So don’t take this as legal advice and please don’t bother calling us from jail. :)
For the case when you're working with people on the creation of commercial products, it's necessary to get the person's signature on release forms to keep everything inside the legal terms, here you can download four samples of release forms that you can utilize during your photo sessions.