Illegal to shoot on public property

Discussion in 'Street and Documentary' started by nick_breedlove|1, Jul 29, 2005.

  1. The below is an interesting post from here:


    So I've been hassled and harassed many time in the past for shooting
    photographs in privately owned public spaces (Starbucks, PF Chaings,
    Toys 'R Us, the new burger spot on Sacramento St. at Drumm, Tosca,
    Grand Central Terminal in New York, etc.) but yesterday was the first
    time I've actually been harassed on a public street over photography.

    Yesterday I was shooting some photos of One Bush St. (the building
    where Bush and Market Streets intersect) when their security guard
    came out of his little glass jewelbox lobby hut to ask me to stop
    taking photos of the building. He said it was illegal. I moved to the
    sidewalk and continued taking photos and he again asked me to stop.
    When I told him I was on a public street sidewalk he said that
    actually they owned the sidewalk and that I was going to have to stop
    taking photographs.

    At this point I told the little guy to call the police and have me
    arrested which he said he did. He then proceeded to follow me around
    the building, from Bush St. to Battery St. to Market St. to Sansome
    St. and try to physically put his hand in front of the lens of my
    camera as I shot the building. Fortunately I was taller than he was so
    I was able to hold the camera out of his range. It was kind of comedic

    Although I've been harassed many, many times for taking photos (the
    camera goes with me virtually everywhere) this was the first time I
    was accosted by a security guard on a public sidewalk.

    I was looking forward to the interchange between myself the security
    guard and a cop (who I doubt he could really get to show up even
    though he kept insisting they were coming to arrest me) but I had to
    get going and was done shooting the building. So after about 10
    minutes I was on my way.

    I'd encourage anyone with a camera to stop by One Bush if you're in
    the neighborhood and fire off a few more shots to annoy this guy.

    I know I'll be back.
  2. *I am not an attorney* *this is not legal advice*

    First off,
    sidewalks are public, unless they are within the private property a business, and soley maintained by that business. I just finished a photo law course at college, we did a lot of discussing about things of this nature. As long as you are one public property, you can take a picture of whatever, or whoever you want and it's perfectly legal, even if they're on private property. the only time you might get into trouble is if you are going to "excessive means" to invade someones privacy i.e. poperazi. It's what you do with the picture that will get you in trouble. However, government agencies do have a right to hold and question you if you are taking pictures of a government building, so be careful and prepared. No one has the right to confiscate your photography equipment without a seizure warrant from a judge. So if you are on private property and get caught taking picture and they try to confiscate your gear, don't let them have it, they are in the wrong. They can remove you from their property, that's it. Another issue, if the cops really want to, even though your taking pictures from a public sidewalk, they can ticket you for obstructing traffic, and disturbing the peace. It's happened before. hope this helps
  3. ky2


    Bring a tripod next time :) and the press.
  4. What could he have done, if he touches you, then you can place assault charges on him. If he tries to keep you from leaving you can place unlawful detainment charges. If he touches your camera, then he is a theif and you can beat him sensless.....
  5. The security guard that is... And call the cops first, as soon as they obstruct you from taking photo's. That way he is automatically the bad guy in any type of civil action.
  6. Hmm, this is interesting. I work at Mission and 2nd and carry around my MP and shoot buildings, people and general street stuff both on my walk from the bus terminal and when I walk around at lunch. Never had any trouble so far but then again I do not find One Bush to be an extremely attractive building. More inclined to shoot the older style ones. I'll watch for this guy though. <p>

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  7. Boing Boing picked up this story and of course from there the traffic goes nuts. There is now a photo contest to shoot photos of the building and a meet up planned on Saturday at noon to shoot the building.
    Ha ha ... that is funny. Way to go. Did you get a picture of the security guard trying to block you as you take potshots over him? Would love to see that one:)
  8. However, government agencies do have a right to hold and question you if you are taking pictures of a government building, so be careful and prepared.
    Stephen, where did you get this? The rules for a police stop haven't changed since Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968). A police officer can briefly detain a person when the officer has specific and articulable facts that would indicate to a reasonable person that a crime has been, is being, or is about to be committed. I'm not aware of any law that criminalizes photographing government buildings, nor am I aware of any court decision holding that taking pictures, per se, is cause for a Terry stop.
    This isn't to say that you won't be approached if you photograph a government building; it's happend to a fair number of people, and has been discussed several times on this forum. However, unless I am mistaken, in every case the agency whose personnel detained the photographer eventually admitted that they had made an error.
    I think a citation for disturbing the peace would be a real stretch. Disorderly conduct (or whatever it's called in the appropriate jurisdiction) might be closer, but even then, it would seem a stretch if you weren't actually interfering in a substantial way. Unfortunately, this doesn't necessarily mean that the cops wouldn't issue a citation. The legal advice that I've been given is that if a cop insists that he will arrest you if you don't move on, do as he says, regardless of whether he's out in left field. You well might beat a ridiculous charge, but the money you'd spend on legal fees could be spent much better elsewhere.
    Lee--Beating a guard senseless isn't a great idea (even if he has it coming). Unless you could make the case that you had reason to fear great bodily harm, you'd probably get charged with assault, possibly as a felony. Better to threaten to call the cops--this has worked for me more than once. If it doesn't work, of course, you need to follow through with the threat.
  9. Richard,
    When you get to One Bush, turn around to look at the Shell
    Building--it's the one reflected in Thomas Hawk's image.
  10. Jeff,

    Terry v. Ohio was ammended by the patriot act
  11. Steven Seward, just curious, what article of the Patriot Act amends that Supreme Court Decision? Not trying to pick a fight, just curious for when I next encounter the law officers in my shooting. I shoot at night, and about every other time I am out hsooting, I get accosted by private guards or law officers. I have been requested to turn my film over twice, and didn't do it. Both instances within the last year.
  12. from what I have been explained, and some of my own research. The patriot act, allows federal officials to authorize the detainment and questioning of anyone with suspiscious activities against national security.
  13. *without a warrant
  14. opc


    The Patriot Act has to do with Federal Law enforcement investigations. It allows for the sharing of information between law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and the gathering of that information. It has nothing to do with local or state police powers. Nor, does it have anything to do with the ability of any law enforcement office to stop, detain, and frisk a person. Terry allows a police officer to stop, detain, and frisk a person without a warrant when the officer can articulate a "reasonable suspicion" of criminal activity.
  15. Stephen,
    I don't mean to be too much of a contrarian, but this logic fails on several counts.
    I think Olivier hit it on the head. Although I haven't read every word of the Patriot Act, I've nonetheless looked at it fairly closely, and I can't find anything even close to giving anyone, state or federal, additional authority to detain anyone for anything. Moreover, I've never seen anyone specifically cite such authority.
    Think also about the bigger picture: Terry derives from the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, so it isn't subject to amendment by an act of Congress. The Supremes still seem to think that Terry is the law of the land, because they so indicated last June in Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial District Court of Nevada. Until the Court overrule Terry in a significant way, a police officer cannot detain a person on an "inchoate and unparticularized suspicion or 'hunch'," but only on "specific reasonable inferences which he is entitled to draw from the facts in light of his experience." I cannot see how someone taking a picture of a government building would automatically meet these criteria. This isn't to say that illegal detentions won't happen, because they already have, and more than a few times. They will continue to happen if we accept inchoate hunches that "there's a law against this" at face value.
  16. Jeff Conrad says: "... a police officer cannot detain a person on an "inchoate and unparticularized suspicion or 'hunch'," but only on "specific reasonable inferences which he is entitled to draw from the facts in light of his experience..." Well, of course Jeff. I am sure they are taught this in the police academy and then they are taught by their sargents exactly how to "get away" with it in the field. Probably there is some mantra that has been through the DA's review that goes like "subject was interfering with the officer's duty to provide clear and unobstructed passage on said sidewalk...." As more than one person has noted here (and elsewhere) even if you are in the right you will lose a lot of time and money proving it. What is really more germain to the subject is that nobody who counts cares in the least that your rights as a photographer or citizen are being limited. Every one who does count (politicians, police, DAs, most of the voting public) are plain happy if they can keep you from taking pictures; you are one less terrorist to worry about. Just to keep this is perspective, think about that guy the Brits shot on the subway: suspicious looks, failure to obey some shouted orders, jumps away and BLAM! eight slugs in the head. Be careful out there. PS This image was scanned while writing the above screed. Its a Kodachrome from 1966, probably 64 ASA, taken with a Nikon F and 50m 1.4 lens. My recollection of 1966 is that the Univ of Calif had not yet purchased the People's Park property and Ronald Reagan was about to get elected Governor.
  17. If you look at my post, I hardly suggested that police will not detain, and even arrest, people illegally. My point was to take issue with the myth that such behavior is perfectly legal.
    I think it's well recognized that police teach rookies how to get around all sorts of legal restrictions (such as Miranda) perceived to cramp police style. I would not be at all surprised if they do this even in the police academy.
    Nonetheless, I'd be surprised (though not astonished) if the SFPD were to arrest a person for a charge as flaky as Michael's humorous (I hope) suggestion, and a friend who's a public defender (admittedly, in another county) has the same impression. This isn't to say that it wouldn't happen; however, even if a person were to be arrested for such nonsense, past history of this DA's office suggests that they would not charge.
    If you look at my earlier post, you'll see that I was one of the people who suggested that there is a time to fold 'em as well as a time to hold 'em. One question to ask oneself might be, "Would I rather spend the $16,000 on legal fees or on two EOS-1Ds bodies?"
    This isn't to suggest automatic and mindless capitulation, however. Several earlier threads in this forum have criticized photographers (unfairly, in my opinion) for cooperating too quickly will illegal detentions and searches. There's nothing wrong with negotiating with a police officer, and surprisingly, it sometimes works, especially if you go about it in a reasonable manner. The rub is that unless one is fairly familiar with the law, it's difficult even to know where to begin. In any event, the key is to recognize when further discussion is only going to lead to trouble, and at that point, back off, even if the cop is dead wrong.
    I think we're all mindful of the London shooting; judging by public reaction in the U.K., I'd guess the police will be a bit more cautious next time. It certainly would help to know the facts in that case: Was the suspect warned? Did he run?
    I think we're getting far away from the topic that began this thread: a twit of a private security guard so far out of line that I just can't see the SFPD taking him seriously, let alone shooting an uppity photographer ...
    I'm surprised that no one has noted the irony of the street name ... I always expect to see defaced street signs, but so far, I've only seen one. SF just isn't the town that Herb Caen used to describe ...
  18. I've taken a lot of pictures around San Francisco. Occasionally somebody objects - the worst was at Mission around 20th when this street guy put his hands on me and pushed me some (I deleted the picture and he went away). I had a grocer from a teeny market in San Rafael object to my taking pictures of the front of his store. He said he'd call the police. I told him I was on a public sidewalk and to go ahead. Then he threatened me physically and I left. Personal safety is important to me. I have several portfolios on from different neighborhoods in SF including Market Street. Good luck.
  19. The U.S. Supreme Court recently set the constitutionally guaranteed right to own
    property on its ear! The business in the building(s) do not own the sidewalks nor do
    they really own the buildings they are in, if the city decides it wants the property for
    something else. The city & state & U.S. have eminent domain and control. The
    "public" owns the roads & sidewalks etc. You are "the public", right? So if the city or
    state bans photography anywhere, it's by your approval as well? Right?
  20. Those of us living in the SF area should organize a "field trip" to Bush and Market and organize a photo protest with tripods....I'm serious.

    This crapola is really getting out of hand!

    I was once kicked out of a carnival for photographing the rides with a tripod...the owner wanted a piece of the action (money). That was at the Santa Clara County Fair many years back.
  21. If you want the definitive answer to "Photographers Rights", go to and download a copy of the .pdf file "Photographers Rights". I keep a few in my camera bag to give to rent-a-cops who give me grief.
  22. Jeff

    The person shot in London did run, would not obey shouted orders,and had an expired visa. It was a tragedy but the police believed he had a bomb, and shot to kill, with special small calibre low velocity bullets [ to decrease the chances of any 'innocent' members of the public being hurt !], therefore the multiple shots. A very sad and tragic incident,that can never be put right - I feel for his family.

  23. NO,
    Jean was not illegal in England as "media" said, he was legal, and a cousin (if I remember well) said he was punched in face by some people on the streets one week before he get murdered without any reason. You know how safe are the streets in a country who believe everyone can be a terrorist, especially if you have black hair and not so white skin. If you know there are people running to catch you what would you do? Shouting to stop without having police officer clothes are no argument to defend the murderers.
    I hope I can see the video from subway showing what those killers done. Only a stupid person would believe in the version the BRITISH GOVERNMENT gave to the case, their intent is to minimize their stupidity. Can�t believe someone can defend that!
  24. Just curious...I was taking pictures of buildings in Pittsburgh on a Sunday morning. I was standing on the plaza outside a large skyscraper type building downtown taking a picture of the front of a restaurant (which was closed) that was on the buildings first floor and whose glass wall was part of the outer wall of the building. The security guard came out telling me that I was not allowed to take photos.

    Now, of course, I knew he was wrong...but I didn't argue because I had one doubt in my mind. I was not standing on the sidewalk but was standing on the outside plaza of the building. Not sure if I am being clear on this. I was outside the building but up the three or four steps and on the outside concrete that the public can walk on without actually being in the building but not on the sidewalk. I therefore was not sure if an outdoor building plaza such as this is considered public space or could the building claim that it is private property as it is owned by the building (though clearly noone would have any expectation of privacy there) and therefore say that I can't photograph on private property. Anyone know?

  25. Hi - There is usually a clear line that separates the sidewalk - where you can shoot - and the private plaza - where you might need permission. Often, they allow you to shoot inside the plaza, as long as you don't look like a professional film/photo crew or set up a tripod. <P>
    This shot was a rush job taken at the Disney Concert Hall in LA. Got it about 30 secs before a guard noticed me and told to stop shooting.
  26. Oops. Let's see if this works better.
  27. I was using a tripod but there was essentially noone else in the plaza...thecomplaint wasn't the tripod it was that noone was allowed to take pictures. What I am really wondering is if the "plaza" is actually considered a public area or is it private and pictures can't be taken if a guard says not to.

  28. In Indiana as a kid, folks would turn over the farmers privies around Halloween time as pranks. The teachers had off the week before Halloween for a seminar in Indianapolis sometimes, so we had more time as kids for pranks. It seemed like a whole month! The farmers would use just light salt usually for the first or second shot, then the third was bigger salt pieces mixed in too. One usually got shot in the bum while retreating, a hard place to do a self fix/removal. One usually ran with more gusto when one heard the shotgun being pumped, with the salt more of a tradational never hit the bum, Indiana rights of passage for a farm boy. One went to the local co-op and bought corn before Halloween too, and went "tick tacking", throwing corn on folks windows. There was always this weird batch of corn growing on ones lawn in the springtime!

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