legalities of street photography

Discussion in 'Street and Documentary' started by dan_roe, Aug 4, 2001.

  1. We all know the "M" body makes a great street camera but I'm wondering about the legalities of taking pictures of a total stranger on a street and then showing them in public such as on the internet. Is this where model consent forms come in or does anyone give up their right to privacy by the mere act of going into a public place? Just wondering.
     
  2. I work for a newspaper as well as having published pictures for 25
    years. The basic rules are:

    <p>

    Taking a picture in a public place is generally always legal. But if
    that place is part of a secured emergency area like a police crime
    scene line or fire or a riot, you may get arrested for being where you
    shouldn't whether you're taking pictures or not. And not all street
    cops know the law, so you may wind up getting arrested anyway (it
    happens to news photographers who ARE acting legally about once a month
    in the US).

    <p>

    If you are not using the picture to promote something (i.e. commercial
    use - advertisement, service, etc.) you can 'publish' a picture taken
    in a public place without permission (e.g. a release). Publishing
    includes the Web (my paper has a web site and runs some of the same
    pictures that run in the newspaper.) Certainly 'editorial' use -
    reporting on the state of the world - is generally protected. And
    editorial use can be extended to cover street photography (a la HCB,
    Winograd, Erwitt, et al) even if the 'event' being reported about is
    just a gesture or expression or moment.

    <p>

    Caveats: If, in publishing the picture, you imply something about the
    person (as in a headline or caption) that is possibly defamatory or
    even just untrue, you may be liable for libel, but a model release may
    not help in that case anyway. The New York Times (or their Sunday
    magazine) got sued for running an anonymous but recognizable telephoto
    street shot of a black man in executive clothing with a story about
    token blacks on Wall Street, and lost. Because the implication was that
    THIS man was a token black on Wall Street.

    <p>

    Also, the cover of a publication (and by extension, possibly the splash
    page of a web site) has been considered commercial use in some cases
    because it 'promotes' the magazine on news stands - in effect it's an
    advertisement for what's inside the magazine. It is also possible that
    a 'portfolio' web site for a photographer intended to bring in business
    may count as 'commercial' usage, since it is 'advertising' for the
    photographer. In theory even putting a picture in your print portfolio
    could be considered 'advertising' for your services if you show it to
    potential clients - if some court decides to rule that showing it
    constitutes 'publication'.

    <p>

    Also, there is still some question about 'fine art' usage, if, for
    example, you are selling prints of the picture for profit. Is that
    'commercial' use? My paper sells reprints of pictures to the public
    (those that have already run in the newspaper) as do other papers/
    publications, and I've never heard of such use requiring releases
    beyond what was required to publish the picture in the first place.

    <p>

    Final blanket caveat: the law is always being tweaked by rulings on new
    cases, new definitions, new technology (eg, the Web). So what is
    generally considered legal or illegal (or liable for civil action) may
    not be next week. Even more finally, you can always be sued for almost
    any reason if someone wants to, even if the law eventually proves to be
    in your favor.

    <p>

    Any Leica-owning legal minds out there want to correct or clarify my
    practical understanding?
     
  3. Everything you've said is pretty accurate. I've been working on a
    book about 'Cafe Culture' (people in cafes), got to wondering if I'd
    have any problems, so took all my images to a lawyer, just to be
    sure. The only one he said could give me problem was of a lone male
    seated under a poster with the headline "Date Rape - do you know who
    your friends are?" The implication was to strong that this person
    was date rapist. Won't include it in the book.
     
  4. Does anyone know what the rules are in foreign countries --
    especially France. I hear France has strict privacy laws.
     
  5. Don't forget that many "public places" are actually private. Malls,
    theatres, restaurents, etc.
     
  6. Bill, in Canada it seems that while, for example a restaruant is a
    private establishment, it would be the restaruant owner that would
    have justification to cause you problems. When I shoot in cafes, I
    always get the owners permission, but it still appears that the
    people I shoot fall under the same 'rules' as above.
     
  7. Photographs taken in a public place and not for commercial profit(as
    in advertising) can generally be exhibited, published and/or sold.
    If the subject is recognizable and is shown in an unfavourable or
    embarrassing way, or the photograph implies something unfavourable
    (such as the "date rape" comment earlier), then it definitely should
    not be shown as legal action would almost certainly succeed.

    <p>

    In relation to street photography in France, I was taking a night
    photograph on the left bank at about 7 pm (Hasselblad on a tripod
    with 250 lens)when I was surrounded by several armed police who
    demamded that the camera be pointed downwards, proved to be a camera
    and shouted at for a time in French - name, hotel, passport, etc.
    They separated my wife and questioned her, and After my wife showed
    documents they grudgingly let me continue.

    <p>

    At that time M. Mitterand lived in an apartment a few streets away.
    Gross overreaction, but it's their job I guess. Apart from that, I
    have not had problems.
     
  8. I have a short blurb about the law w.r.t. NSW in Australia in the "Privacy" section of the essay in my "Everyday Life" project:

    4020 Everyday Life

    Basically, there's no law against photographing people in public in Australia. However, subjects in photographs can get injunctions if the photograph humiliates or degrades them. They can also start actions in defamation - don't forget, no freedom of speech protection here!
     
  9. Gem of a question, great responses. A lot of my work comes from the
    Peoples Republic of China, (Great Wall, 3G Dam, Yangtse, Xian, Silk
    Route), pays to have a Govt. guide with you. Never had a problem, and
    was never refused an opportunity.
     
  10. What Andy said is an excellent summary of the general law
    across the federal and various state jursdictions. Of course, you
    may still get sued in a non-meritorious action, or there may be
    subtle aspects of your local jurisdiction that differ. Whenever you
    start to make money off of someone else's likeness you are well
    advised to have a compreshensive model release, properly
    executed (these are issues of the law of contracts). Also, there
    is a tort of invasion of privacy action where you show someone in
    a bad light (this is different from a libel action). A bad light
    example might be, while they are urinating or picking their nose,
    etc. Sorry to be so graphic, but I hope you get the point. The
    difference here is that truth is generally a deffense in a libel
    action, whereas it is not in an invasion of privacy action. Don't
    confuse this with your 4th and 5th Amendment rights to privacy,
    they are different.

    <p>

    As always, this does not constitute legal advice to any individual,
    and I recommend that you seek competent legal counsel
    pertinent to your issue and jursidiction when needed.

    <p>

    Dan Brown, Intellectual Property Attorney.
     
  11. The observations on street photography in France lead me to believe
    that either

    <p>

    1. the French really got sick of Cartier-Bresson walking around
    sticking that Leica in their faces

    <p>

    or that

    <p>

    2. they were paranoid about photographers all along, despite having
    invented the medium, and H.C-B. developed his legendary stealth as a
    way of coping with those darn gendarmes. No wonder he paraphrases De
    Gaulle-"aim fast, shoot and scram". The cops would have got him if he
    had not :)
     
  12. As a 1st time visitor from the Pentax 67 site can I add my comments on
    street photography in the UK (and a bit about France). Assuming the
    same laws apply to very small and very big cameras....

    <p>

    In the UK you can take photographs of whatever you like as long as you
    are on public right of way. Some other laws may apply eg: blocking
    public footpath (with a tripod), laws of decency (taking a photograph
    of someone undressing / sunbathing in their home). If you take a photo
    of a person who is recogniseable and then publish for profit the the
    individual can sue, so a "model release" agreement is required for
    commercial work. Some defence sites will have specific requirements.

    <p>

    If you are standing on private land (including a public footpath
    through private land / shopping centre etc. ) the the land-owner can
    lay down whatever rules they like. A lot of London is actually private
    property.

    <p>

    For France I would assume the same rules apply, the only exception is
    that architects have recently sucessfuly sued photographers who profit
    from taking photographs of their buildings. This is very dodgy ground
    but you only need to be concerned if you are a commerical
    photographer. Generally Spanish, French etc. are a lot hotter on
    defence sites and government buildings. I don't argue with 18 year old
    conscripts with a machine gun.
     
  13. I would like to reinforce what was already mentioned about the
    fact that in America many places that seem public are in fact
    private. Those of you who live in large cities have a distinct
    advantage when it comes to candid street photography. Those of
    us who live in suburbia or middle America are quite limited. This
    winter I stepped into my local shopping mall to test out a digital
    camera before taking it with me on vacation. I chose the mall
    because in the dead of winter in my town not much is happening
    on the street. The mall has a central area with fountains where
    many people hang out and drink coffee and kids play near the
    fountains. As I walked from the entrance of the mall to the
    fountain area I arbitrarily shot about 6 images, choosing them to
    test the camera's capabilities. I then bought a coffee and sat
    down by the fountain, whereupon 3 burly security guards
    surrounded me and demanded to know why I was taking
    photographs of the "patented" Abercrombie and Fitch storefront
    and the tea displays at Starbucks. I explained that I had no
    sinister intent and was merely testing a camera. They produced
    a set of rules governing behavior in the mall including things like
    drunken and disorderly conduct, unrinating in public, and taking
    photos. I told them I had no idea that such a rule existed and
    offered to desist from this awful activity. That satisfied them for
    awhile but 20 minutes later they returned and demanded that I
    turn over my "film". Of course they had no right to do this, though
    they could have asked me to leave. As I was certainly not looking
    for a hassle I deleted the images from the camera with them
    watching and they finally left.

    <p>

    So the lesson is, just because it feels public doesn't make it
    public. This has also happened to me at a Borders books and at
    a museum recently. It is not entirely clear to me why these
    places are so protective, but it is their right to be I guess.
     
  14. Okay, after reading all the responses, I'll have to say I'm still not
    clear on what's legal and what's not.

    <p>

    Here's situation #1:

    <p>

    I want to do a documentary photo story that I will eventually exhibit
    -- in my case a modern dance company.
    I get verbal permission to shoot rehearsals and performances from the
    choreographer/artistic director.
    I capture a number of photographs, some of which I decide would go in
    my exhibit.
    I'll sell prints to whomever is interested, including the dancers
    themselves who rarely get photos of themselves in action.

    <p>

    Do I need specific model release forms for all the dancer depicted in
    my photos?

    <p>

    Here's situation #2:

    <p>

    I want to do a documentary project on a certain section of a street in
    town with an active nightlife -- both legal and illegal.
    I hang out on the street, photograph nightclubs or bars from the
    street -- through windows, peopel entering and exiting through the
    main doors.
    I also shoot people walking, talking, dealing drugs, streetwalkers,
    cops dealing with the druggies and streetwalkers, couples holding
    hands under a neon sign saying "High Life -- Good Times," etc. You get
    the picture. All shot from the street or sidewalk.
    I don't ask any of these people permission or even explain what I'm
    doing unless they ask me. Basically, shoot first, deal with questions
    once the film is safely in my pocket.
    Now I want to exhibit 30 photos under the context of "Lake Street
    Nightlife."

    <p>

    Do I need model release forms for these photos too?

    <p>

    As background, my day job is as a reporter for a local newspaper. I
    also shoot for the paper -- mostly my own stories. Under my
    newspaper's security blanket, I have no problems shooting. When I'm
    working on my own stuff, it gets a little iff for me.

    <p>

    sorry this is so long. Thanks in advance for any comments.
     
  15. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator Staff Member

    In the case of the dancers, it depends on whether or not there is an
    agreement in place between the dancers and the dance company, and
    then you and the dance company. Otherwise, you will need model
    releases unless you restrict sales to the dancers themselves.

    <p>

    The other case is less clear, especially if you are not selling the
    images, but only exhibiting. If you depict illegal activity, you may
    want to ask a lawyer before showing photos.
     
  16. Regarding the message above, about the security guards attempting to
    confiscate film (from a digital camera, of all things!): My
    understanding is that as long as there is no expressed prohibition on
    photography in a public place, you have every right to shoot pictures
    until and unless you are told to cease. Hence, as long as the mall
    had no signs prohibiting photography, you had the right to shoot until
    the guards told you to stop, at which time you must follow their
    request. But in such cases, their prohibition is NOT retroactive, and
    if they threaten to take your film, you should demand that they bring
    in the police -- to arrest THEM for theft.

    <p>

    I have faced this problem a few times, as I often shoot musicians in
    nightclubs. If possible, I seek permission from the musicians or
    their managers ahead of time; if that is not possible, I do not ask
    the nightclub managers, as they almost always say "no way" even though
    not one (of dozens) of musicians have ever refused me. On one
    occasion, while photographing a show (within my rights, as explained
    above), an enormous bouncer dragged me up front, where a freakishly
    tall staffer (easily over seven feet) towered over me, talking
    threateningly of taking me film. The only course of action in such
    situations, in my opinion, is to calmly but firmly try to explain the
    law to these people, and if it doesn't work, simply request that they
    call the cops.
     
  17. Here’s an interesting Right to Privacy “test.” I was driving into the city along New Avenue, which stretches between Lockport and Lemont, Illinois. As I was driving, I noticed that the plumes of steam rising from the refinery just north of the 135th street bridge. The sun was setting in an interesting way, so I pulled over to the side of the road (a public road) and stopped to take a picture. Just then a security truck pulled over and told me that photography of the refinery was prohibited.



    I assumed that anything within public view of the road, especially such a large, imposing (and polluting) structure would be free subject matter for photojournalism.



    My wife called me an hour later and said that a police officer stopped by the house and wanted to speak to me about the matter. Does anyone have any legal information that I could use in my defense, in case I am harassed again? I’m just afraid that local law enforcement officials might take our personal liberties for granted in these stressful political times.
     
  18. Christopher, see here.
     
  19. On 042403, I was standing on a New York City public sidewalk at
    Park Avenue and 48th Street. While taking a photograph of the
    Chase Bank Building, a security guard approached me and said
    that I wasn't allowed to take pictures of their building. I ignored
    him and continued to take photographs until the security chief
    came out and asked me to stop taking pictures. I continued and
    he called the police. The police came and told me to leave
    immediately or face arrest.

    I called the NYC ACLU and they said that I was wrong and that it
    was illegal for me to photograph a building that the building
    owner didn't want me to photograph.

    I believe that the ACLU is wrong. But since I am not willing to test
    the law in court, I'll never know if it is legal to take photographs of
    buildings in the United States of America.
     
  20. Ok, here's one for you all. Say I wanted to create a website that featured candid photographs taken by people other than myself. The pictures will be used commercially on the web site as a service. Since I was not the one that took the pictures do I still have to have model consent forms to use them comercially? Or can I just write up a legal notice... something like "The photos here are the property of the photographer. By entering this web site you agree not to hold My WebSite responsible for the photos on this site. Would that work? Thanks for any insight.
     
  21. mike dixon

    mike dixon Moderator

    No, that will not work. Typically, the publisher is held accountable for an unauthorized use of someone's image. If you want to publish, you are responsible for making sure the needed releases are in order.

    I don't know whether or not releases would be needed for your site (I don't really get the description), but a disclaimer will not give you any legal protection.
     
  22. I'm interested in what you think of this situation.

    I have a personal photography site. I posted photos taken with a pencam on the front steps of the library.
    I thought they were odd looking, the way the people seemed, in the photos, to be having trouble. I post a lot of pencam images of people I encounter out in public. I am a big fan of the pencam and the weird angles and such that you get when using it to snap photos on the fly.
    I took the photos on the library steps when I was NOT at work, which is important because I am a library employee. But at the time, I was out and about with a friend taking photos and the front steps of the public library is one of the places we will stop and sit for a minute.

    I got to work yesterday to find this email in my inbox from the head of personnel:

    "Emily, we received a phone call from a patron complaining about pictures you posted on your personal web site of her and her son as they are coming up the front steps to the Main Library. She said the photos were taken and are being displayed without her permission. She would like them removed at once.

    Referring to the Library's Photography Policy posted on the Intranet it states in part, "This policy is set forth to provide information and guidelines for all staff on photography and the use of visual images. The primary purpose of this policy is to uphold patron confidentiality and provide the safest possible environment for all public and staff. The policy is also intended to protect staff and the Library from legal problems that can arise from unauthorized photography...Only photographers under contract may, during normal operation of the library, take still or video photos or persons in public areas of the library. Staff and patrons are also prohibited from exhibiting (displaying images in public areas) and/or posting photographs or other visual images in the library without the express consent of the Library Director or his designee."

    There are at least three to four other pictures taken on Library property. Please remove all pictures taken on library property immediately that do meet with policy. If you have any questions regarding this directive, contact me."


    Here's the url to the page with the "offending" photos.

    So, I wrote back and said I would remove the photos. Then I removed the photos (well, access to them via the site itself). I decided that was the best way to deal with the whole situation.

    (I would like to add that, though this is irrelevant....I fabricated the part about them being mother and son, they were just two separate people but it seemed like a good caption, since what I was going for was the humor of the situation. Therefore, the woman who wrote the email is lying. She obviously happened upon my site somehow, possibly it was in the history file of a computer, either mine or one of the few co-workers I've given the url to over the years, and she decided to approach me about it by saying she'd gotten a phone call. As all of you who have websites know, the chances of this woman just happnening upon my site, a site where I don't say where I live and finding a photo of herself buried a month back in the archives, are astronomical. It's very strange. And why in the WORLD would she contact the place the photo was taken and not the person who posted it online if she wanted it removed? It's all very strange.)

    Anyway, I'm not arguing with the library. I am taking the photos down. If I didn't work for the library, I would likely fight them on the issue, but I do and that's that.

    The thing is, now the library and the union and the lawyers are all getting into a thing where they're going to look into their policy and go over it and all that. The library has recently renovated its 100 year old building and people have been in the library, non-stop, taking photos of it, the security guard told the union steward that he sees it all the time but hasn't stopped anyone from doing it. All of this is nothing I'm going to be directly involved in, but unfortunately, my site and these photos got the ball rolling.

    I find it curious that that a photo, as well as this photo are unacceptable. I would think the library would be considered "public", especially the front steps. I understand the library, to some extent, has an obligation to protect its patrons' privacy, but was under the impression that related more to materials they are using and/or checking out, not whether or not they actually go TO the library.

    I knew about restaurants, shops, malls, etc...being privately owned and creating their own policies regarding photography, but the public library, I wasn't aware they could, as a public institution, create a no-photography policy.

    I'm just hoping that when all the lawyers and library bigwigs get all tangled up in the legality of this stuff, they don't take their frustrations out on me! I did what I was asked and removed the photos from my site.
     
  23. Question: If you ask people on the street to stop and pose AND if you use these commercially, must you have a model release? In my case I wish to create slide shows of our town and charge admission.

    Newspapers are run for profit and do they have to ask permission to take photos of people on streets? Is verbal permission enough?
     
  24. Legalities, they will be telling you soon how many pieces of paper you can use to wipe your bum.

    I take photos, does'nt hurt, does no harm. Of course, a lot of people every day get shot, not by a camera. Maybe the 'correct' should devote their energies in a more constructive direction.
     
  25. Hello,

    I would like to pick everyone's brains for more information about photography in France!

    I am a british photographer resident in France, and I have started taking photographs of local festivals, hopefully to sell to magazines in both Britain and France. After having read the comments above I am beginning to wonder if I am supposed to get written permission from everyone in my photographs, there can easily be ten or more!

    My main query is: if I only sold my photographs outside of France - would I still be subject to the strict French regulations regarding permission?
     
  26. I know this is a rather late addition to this thread, but I've started a nonprofit web forum specifically to address such issues: photopermit.org
     
  27. Street Photography explores what is out there when you go outside. As long as you do not make someone out to be something they are not, every scene is fair game for capture. The last post has a URL entered improperly. Remove the middle period and you get to the site.
     
  28. My "everday" link above is out of date. The summary of the legalities of street
    photography in Australia can now be found at:

    http://critics.4020.net/

    (Scroll down the page to the "Privacy" heading.)
     
  29. grg

    grg

    Great thread. Steve Rosenblum's experience at the mall is sort of an example of Dan Brown's statement, "there may be subtle aspects of your local jurisdiction that differ." But, it should be noted that Steve's acts were in violation of mall rules and were not likely in violation of any state/federal laws, i.e. illegal.
     
  30. Here's my situation: I'm curating a benefit, showcasing 25 artists. Additionally I have several photos of cast/crew of the tv show I work on. They are presented as snapshots (no framing) tacked to a wall, and up for auction. NO PROFIT WILL BE MADE. All proceeds will benefit the charity. Is it necessary to obtain signed releases?
     

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