Photographer's rights

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From williamsmyth/William (201) Send mail to this user on June 13, 2003 5:36:24 PM CDT

A few months back there were several discussions going on here as to what rights photographers have in taking pictures on buildings, bridges, etc.. In these post 9/11 times, there seemed to be a great deal of confusion. With overzealous security guards and law enforcement officials, this topic had become a real issue for many of us. Well, last week I had the opportunity to discuss these issues with attorney that handles these sorts of issues for a television network. He told me that contrary to any rumors, there was nothing in the Patriot Act or any other legislation that would restrict any photographer from videotaping or photographing any buildings bridge, or landmark public or private in this country - as long as the photographer is not trespassing on private property. Hope this helps anyone who is dealing with anyone trying to prevent them from a perfectly legal activity.

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From skydancer/Marion (9,909) Send mail to this user on June 13, 2003 6:37:19 PM CDT

Good that you are seeking out authorative information. I have an observation though, because this is for a TV network, would not most if not all of the shots be only for news, journalistic, or editorial consumption? In other words, this may address the public legality of shooting the image, but does not address the copyright or possible tradmark issues, just want to be clear, and have through clarification.


From williamsmyth/William (201) Send mail to this user on June 13, 2003 6:42:15 PM CDT

I asked him that very question. Members of the media have no more rights to take photos than any private citizen. This freedom applies to us all.

From williamsmyth/William (201) Send mail to this user on June 13, 2003 7:04:01 PM CDT

... and I meant to add in the last post. If the building or landmark, etc. can be seen from public property, the photographer retains the right to the photo. Pretty much any object, photo of people however can be a stickier situation. A note. I work for the network that the lawyer represents and nothing I shoot is for journalistic purposes and the above still applies.

From epodange/Linda (1,004) Send mail to this user on June 14, 2003 9:55:39 AM CDT

You are confusing usage. They are restricted as we are on how an image is used....we all can take pictures of anything but we cannot publish them for profit without permission and sharing the profit, but it can be published unhindered in a news article. It's been ruled, even if you have your curtains open and someone with a very long lens is on public property (or permission given from your neighbor across the street), that image can be published. It couldn't be published in an ad or sold as a print to hang on a wall.

From williamsmyth/William (201) Send mail to this user on June 14, 2003 12:10:26 PM CDT

Exactly. My original post was only about the right to take the picture. Everyone has the right to take the photo as long as they are not trespassing on private property. The copyright situation is stickier - especially when people are factored in. That is another discussion entirely.

From deleted29080/deleted (470) Send mail to this user on June 14, 2003 2:18:09 PM CDT

I thought that I wouldn't have any trouble considering I look much younger than I am with people shooing me away but last time I went to Indianpolis I was kicked out of three buildings and was questioned by a bystanding police officer why i was out taking photos....

From option1/Neil (1,743) Send mail to this user on June 14, 2003 10:24:17 PM CDT

Key phrase there Tiffany is "...kicked OUT of buildings..." Note the difference between what you said and "...on public property...". ...Neil

From deleted29080/deleted (470) Send mail to this user on June 14, 2003 11:11:46 PM CDT

but they are buildings which are like the beautiful state buildings downtown

From scottaitken/Scott (61) Send mail to this user on June 15, 2003 12:36:02 AM CDT

There seems to be some confusion of issues here. People have mixed in a couple of related, but different issues. There is: 1) when & where do you have a right to take a photo; 2) who has the copyright to that photo; and 3) do you need a release to use the photo commercially. The original question only commented about the first, and the others sort of got thrown into the mix.

(1) In the USA, you can take a photo of pretty much anything anywhere as long as you are in a public place or have permission to be on private property. This is a widely misunderstood right, and a vast majority of private security thugs (I mean guards) have this wrong. An excellent resource is The Photographer's Rights.

(2) With the exceptions of some employment contracts, generally if you take the photo, you automatically become the copyright holder. You have more proof, and can obtain a higher award in a trial if you've registered your image with the Library of Congress, but you still have basic copyright protection even if you don't register. See U.S. Copyright Office.

(3) Even if you can legally take a photo, there are some limitations on what you can do with it once you have it. The most commonly talked about here is the need for a model release (or property release) if you want to use the image for commercial purposes (in an advertisement, for example). Commercial does not mean you are making money for it. Newspaper photographers get paid, but news photos do not require a release. Sometimes images used in advertisements are free or clip art, but still require a model release. I have a Model Release FAQ on my website (excuse the shameless plug).

All of this relates to US law, and may be completely inaccurate or contradictory as it relates to laws in other countries.

From watcher/Khaled (87) Send mail to this user on June 15, 2003 5:56:53 PM CDT

I have always wanted to stand at a street corner and take photographs of passersby. I am worried that two things might happen:

1. A passer by takes an exception to that.

2. Some clever Dick might see in that a threat to national security! With a name like mine, I stand no bloody chance.

Sadly, I shall never have a chance to capture those purposeful looks of a business person on his way, the tired look of a mother dragging a child and perambulating another, nor the looks of youngsters searching for whatever they search for - before they grow and give up.


From williamsmyth/William (201) Send mail to this user on June 16, 2003 11:13:08 AM CDT

Thanks Scott. You did a nice job clearing up the confusion - something I was aiming to eliminate. Tiffany, if you're in the building, you enter a gray area and the rights aren't so clear, even if they are government buildings. However, if you're on a public street no one can stop you from taking a photo of any building, public or private. Some clueless cops or security personnel may object, but they are wrong to do so.

From scottaitken/Scott (61) Send mail to this user on June 16, 2003 2:27:26 PM CDT

Khaled - In the US, you have every legal right to stand on a public street corner and photograph anyone (or anything) you please--unless you are, like, blocking traffic or something. However, as you point out, just because you have the legal right to do so, this doesn't prevent people from getting pissed off about it. For angry passersby, you have to rely on people skills, not the law.

As a practical matter, I think most people who get offended do so because the photographer acts surreptitiously, trying to disguise the fact that he/she is taking a photo. Some photographers do this because they want "candid" photos, not posed, and think this is way to do it. Nevertheless, people become suspicious of the photographer's motivation because the photographer is, frankly, acting sort of suspicious. My solution is not to make any attempt to disguise that I am taking photos. I use a full sized SLR, and often have several large, conspicuous lenses with me. A polite manner and an ingratiating smile often carry the day. I usually either ask outright, or indicate quite plainly that I want to take their picture. If they scowl or object, I don't bother; there's millions of other people to take pictures of. If they smile and start posing, I take a shot or two and wait for them to go back to acting naturally again.

As far as hassles from police/security thugs go, you might be right, in that since 9/11/01 many Americans have become suspicious of people who appear to be Arabic. This is a sad, but accurate, fact. If you go to The Photographer's Rights, as I suggested, there is a simple page you can download and print, and carry with you. If you calmly explain to security thugs what your rights are, and show them the information, you might be fine. If they continue to hassle you, get their name and employer, and leave. Sue them for discrimination later, if you are inclined. Or sue them for assault if they actually touch you.

Tiffany - The government generally can not tell you who or what you can photograph when you are outside in public, but there are a number of legal reasons they can prevent you from taking photos inside a government building. For example, you can photograph the Pentagon from the street all you want, but you obviously won't be allowed to go inside and start taking pictures.

William - Since 9/11/01, any number of cities and local government bodies have passed all sorts of misguided ordinances outlawing the taking of photos of bridges, buildings, monuments, and so on, all in the name of "security". Most of these ordinances are blatantly unconstitutional, and would likely be tossed out by nearly any judge if ever challenged in court. It is pretty silly too, if you think about it. If I was a terrorist, why would I stand there with a big camera on a tripod, all obvious as I can be? I can buy a digital camera the size of a credit card for less than $200 and take 20 pictures as I drive by, and nobody would be the wiser. Besides being unconstitutional, it is ridiculous to hassle hobbyists and tourists when the ordinance does absolutely nothing to actually increase real security.

From dchughes/D.C. (2,611) Send mail to this user on July 4, 2003 4:07:51 PM CDT

I am posting an Email I recently had to send. It was addressed to the Ward One council member and the chief of Police here in DC and "courtesy" copied to my attorney, the deputy mayor for public safety, the MPD director of corporate communications as well as the fourth district commander and his appropriate subordinates...


I am writing to you regarding inappropriate behavior/threats as well as attempted restraint of trade/speech and intimidation under-color-of-authority.

O/a 18:30 EDT 21 JUN 03 on the north side of the 1600 block of Newton Street, NW (between 16th and Brown Streets) there was an incident involving a white male laying on the grass next to the sidewalk.

I arrived approximately five minutes after the ambulance and started taking photographs--from 30 feet away at my closest-point-of-approach to the scene.

A Black male officer (approx. 6'7" 200 lbs, dark-blue "utility" uniform--numbers missing from his badge) noticed what I was doing and began a boisterous commentary and then proceeded to try to belligerently drive me away:

"Move up the street!..."
"I don't care what paper you work for--if you don't move up the street I'll arrest you for failure to obey a command!..."

Since I was plying-my-trade/practicing my art, there was no demarcated "crime scene", I was *not* interefering w/the work of the EMTs or police officers, I was not impeding the engress/egress of emergency vehicles/personnel and at no time was closer than 30 feet I find this unacceptable behavior on the part of alledged "professionals"...

FYI, the patrol car #s:

I also think this type of behavior/interaction on the part of an ARMED public servant w/arrest powers toward a citizen standing in a public street is not only unacceptable, but a potential cause(s)-of-action and liability to the District.

I have communicated in the past--approx. two years ago--with Mr. Morrison regarding the need to educate members of MPD regarding their MISPERCEPTIONS regarding photographers, photography and the law as well as their deportment, demeanor and professional bearing when interacting w/photographers.

I for one shall not tolerate abuse or attempts at intimidation under-color-of-authority and I do not think the District or MPD should tolerate such behavior and the attending liabilities...

From jfdavis58/John (6,565) Send mail to this user on July 5, 2003 1:28:40 AM CDT

I'd be equally interested in any reply you may have or do receive to this letter. Would you take the time to post that here as well, please?

From dchughes/D.C. (2,611) Send mail to this user on July 6, 2003 8:14:08 PM CDT

Sure--if there is a response.

From dchughes/D.C. (2,611) Send mail to this user on July 14, 2003 1:03:47 PM CDT

So, to date, I have recieved two Email msgs from MPD tactical level supervisors asking me to call them...

In my non-existant copious "free-time" I tried to call one of them and got Vmail twice.

From jfdavis58/John (6,565) Send mail to this user on July 14, 2003 2:36:30 PM CDT

I got your "We're investigating" Email and nearly bust a seam laughing. A couple years back I had a run-in with both the local cops and the public school cops. After I related the situation to a lawyer I was equally amused to find that 'they'-the cops' had been all over my rights like a tractor in a field. Like you I made an 'official' protest only to be 'red-taped' to boredom and ultimate dissatifaction. I played phone tag for several weeks, too!

Surprise, surprise, now that complaint and dozens others are in the hands of a civilian review board, and they are howling mad. Seems the local police chief and all the mini-chiefs think that they can sweep review-board reccomendations out with the daily trash. The whole mess is headed for our state supreme court! Authority corrupts; Absolute authority corrupts absolutely! This is a case where I am gratefully cheering the fourth estate! And that's a rarity!

From dchughes/D.C. (2,611) Send mail to this user on July 14, 2003 4:26:31 PM CDT

Well, the newly re-constructed "Civilian Complaint Review Board" in the District is universally viewed as a political make-work gelding...

Also, don't forget that three members of the Council of the District of Columbia, the deputy mayor for public safety and the Chief of Police are all on the distribution list for this matter.

In fact, this morning they all recieved copies of 2003-302/4 this morning...

If necessary this can be escalated to ASMP, and the editors of the Post and the Times and the local politics reporter at WRC

I hate bullies and shall not suffer them...


Diplomacy is the art of saying 'nice doggy' until you can find a rock.

From dchughes/D.C. (2,611) Send mail to this user on July 14, 2003 4:45:46 PM CDT

BTW, after analyzing 2003-302/4 I just love the way the cop managed to make me the center-of-attention...


The best leaders inspire by example. When that's not an option, brute intimidation works pretty well, too.

From jfdavis58/John (6,565) Send mail to this user on July 14, 2003 7:22:38 PM CDT

I'm shocked-not surprised-but shocked! Something not in the photograph is certainly 'going on'. But what? On the surface I'm inclined to say that this looks like something akin to a 'code red', or a 'scrubbing party', or a 'lynch mob'. Anonimity/secrecy is much sought by such participants, you got their photo!

My latin is a bit rusty, so I'll refrain from bad effort/result and just say "Some is rotton on Newton St, and it looks semi-official"

From dchughes/D.C. (2,611) Send mail to this user on July 31, 2003 3:41:13 PM CDT

Well, this is the latest:

Date: Wed, 30 Jul 2003 21:53:55 -0400
From: "Brian Grogan"
To: [Deleted]
Subject: RE: 18:30 EDT 21 JUN 03

Mr. Hughes,

Per MPDC Department Policy your complaint of harassment has been forwarded to the OCCR (Office of Citizen Complaint Review).

If you have any other questions please contact me on (202) 576-8211 or by E-Mail.

From dchughes/D.C. (2,611) Send mail to this user on September 14, 2003 5:14:40 PM CDT

Recieved today:

Date: Sat, 13 Sep 2003 16:54:25 -0400
From: "Brian Grogan"
To: [Deleted]
Subject: RE: 18:30 EDT 21 JUN 03

Thank you for bringing this matter to our attention.

Your E-Mail allegation was investigated but could not be sustained.

Lieutenant Samuel Golway of the Maurice T. Turner Institute of Police Science is available and can be contacted in reference to creating a training class for officers regarding relations and interaction with reporters.

From awfulsara/Sara (12,073) Send mail to this user on July 4, 2003 4:38:27 PM CDT

Scott, you seem very well versed in this. Thanks for informative and well written comments!!

From marinpix/John (508) This user is a Premium Member Send mail to this user on July 4, 2003 10:20:34 AM CDT

So, my question as to whether I need a release from a homeless person is moot so long as he's in public; even if my intention is to show and, who knows, possibly sell in a gallery?

From kiss1974/Emanuel (2,328) Send mail to this user on July 14, 2003 1:56:01 PM CDT

I would think that in the above case you would still need a model release to sell the image.

Thanks to everyone who has contributed to this thread. This subject is a tough one to decipher at times. Any one know if Canadian law is any different. I've printed "The Photographer's Rights" pamphlet but I'm curious whether those points are applicable to Canadian law.

From douglester/Doug (507) Send mail to this user on September 14, 2003 9:25:17 PM CDT

There is a too common misconception involved here. There is a misperception involved with candid style photos made on the streets or in any public location. To many believe that as long as no "commercial" (for profit) use is made of the photos, then no model release is needed. "Commercial" use is not the right key word, instead it's 'publish'. You certainly have the right to photograph anyone you see in public, but your rights stop there. While laws vary from state to state, most states have civil laws concerning the right to privacy. That means any individual, with some exceptions involving public persons or celebrities, have a right to privacy, even when in public places. That means you can make their photos, but if you publish that shot without their consent, you may well be violating their right to privacy. In other words, you can shoot a photo of that homeless person, but if you publish it, whether in a magazine or on a website such as PhotoSig, you could have a problem. One exception is for actual 'news' purposes. A photo of a homeless person which illustrates an actual news article would probably be considered to be 'in the public interest', so no release would be needed. But that same photo, later posted on a web site, used on a calendar or in an art gallery, could be considered an invasion of privacy and to be holding the subject up to ridicule. Cases have been decided in court with those circumstances, on behalf of the subject, very costly to the photographer. Some intangibles also come into play, such as how likely is the homeless person to see or hear of the photos? If he or she did hear of them, how likely would he or she be to contact an attorney and lodge a complaint? Your best bet would be to shot the photo, then offer a couple of bucks to sign one of the samll, non-intimidating releases you can get on a pad from most decent camera stores. You might get a punch in the nose, but you would be on a far better legal footing.

From msiemon/Mark (983) Send mail to this user on September 15, 2003 9:22:54 AM CDT

Sorry Doug but I have to disagree on a number of points.

A person's right to privacy is violated when "private facts" are disclosed. Events that take place in full view of the public are not private and there is no invasion of privacy.

Commercial is the right key word but it does not mean for profit. Commercial means use in advertising, marketting material, trade marks and the like. In addition to the right to privacy, people have a right to publicity. That is, they have the right to control the commercial use of their likeness.

Sooo - non-commercial use of pictures of people taken in public is generally acceptable.

From douglester/Doug (507) Send mail to this user on September 15, 2003 9:58:32 AM CDT

Mark, without wanting to get into a'thing' about this, I have to disagree. Privacy laws vary from state to state and exp from country to country, with some being more strict than others. In most places though, an individual, other than public persons like a celebrity, have the absolute right to control he use of their likeness. Simply dislaying their image in public without consent can be considered a violation of that privacy. Posting a photo on a web site is publiction, just as though it were published in a paper magazine. Anyone doing photography of people in public without a release would be well advised to discuss it with an attorney in their state.

From msiemon/Mark (983) Send mail to this user on September 15, 2003 10:19:44 AM CDT

Pointing to a relevant case would help make your point. Privacy laws do vary from state to state but I don't believe any state gives an individual "the absolute right to control the use of their likeness".

From dchughes/D.C. (2,611) Send mail to this user on September 16, 2003 3:17:42 PM CDT

is a misperception involved with candid style photos made on the streets or in any public location


There is no such thing as a reasonable expectation of privacy in public, hence the word public...

If it's in or viewable from a public way (read: street or other thoroughfare) or public property it's fair game.

"Commercial use" is the key here.

Ars Longa, Vita Brevis

From douglester/Doug (507) Send mail to this user on September 16, 2003 7:24:15 PM CDT

As I said, I'm not going to argue the subject. But there is a large and possibly deep financial hole out there waiting for someone to fall into it. I strongly suggest you guys do what I did and discuss it with an attorney who is experienced in privacy issues. I did and the info I gained was well worth the small cost of a one hour conversation.

From dchughes/D.C. (2,611) Send mail to this user on September 17, 2003 4:48:00 PM CDT

I have excellent counsel...

The primary is a pit-bull, in fact.

And, I am perfectly capable of reading law for myself.

Is vis pacem, para bellim

From dchughes/D.C. (2,611) Send mail to this user on March 17, 2005 5:03:31 PM CST

I really like your photo '2005-Field Test XIII/0128 ("Headed for the barn")'. I took some photos in a DC subway station a few years ago (before 9/11/2001) and nearly got fined $5000 for not having a permit. Just a heads-up -- if you don't have a permit, be discreet in a non-suspicious way while photographing.

Recieved this today from a fellow PSigger regarding an image I posted--yet another example of flat-foots spouting untruths at J.Q. Public...

From sheena/SheenaWilkie (11,273) This user is a Premium Member Send mail to this user on March 17, 2005 5:13:40 PM CST

DC don't bump up old threads with duplicate posts.

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