flap-002

There’s been some discussion in our Flickr forums about police and even private citizens harassing photographers for “security” reasons. Unfortunately, this is having a chilling effect on photographers. I know of one terrific shutterbug who put away his cameras in storage because of it.

Bert Krages is an attorney who’s offering a downloadable PDF on his Website that contains a list of photographer’s rights in the US. I’d suggest you download it, read it, and carry it with you in your gadget bag in case you come upon your own Barney Fife in real life trying to stop you from taking legal photos.

In the USA, photographers have the right to take just about any photo they want, as long as they are in public. That right will go away if not defended vigorously. In a time when “Homeland Security” is used to justify just about any government intrusion into our lives, I am reminded of the famous quote. Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” Ben Franklin

For our readers in the UK, check out UK Photographers’ Rights.

For our readers in Australia, check out NSW Photo Rights.

If you know of other such documents, be sure to mention them in the comments section of this post.

NOTE: We’re not giving legal advice. We’re merely pointing out that these documents are available. We’re not attesting to their value. Use your own judgment, and when in doubt, contact a licensed attorney.

_______________
This post sponsored by the Digital SLR Store

Join the conversation! 39 Comments

  1. Sorry summary for Canadians … this time with the link http://ambientlight.ca/laws.php

  2. Sorry summary for Canadians … this time with the link http://ambientlight.ca/laws.php

  3. Thanks, for this info. But this is everywhere on the net, great if you live in the UK, US or Australia.

    But have you ever tried to find out what your rights are when visiting other countries. I live in Thailand and with rumours of another military coup in the air it would be nice if I could get information on this particular location.

    After all as an ex-pat living here I would feel safer knowing this kind of info.

    Recently the Olympic Tourch was here and I felt like going down to China Town to see if anything interesting happened. However the Authoroties here promised to crack down on foreigners here if they were deemed to be protesting, not only by removing them but by deporting them. I really didn’t feel like getting deported for taking a few photos.

    But what about all those other countries in the world, going on Holiday to Southern Africa? I wonder what your rights there would be? Or South East Asia? The Indian Sub-Continent? Europe? Americas?

    I’ve seen this info (mostly on the UK and US) umpteen times but what about the rest of the World?

  4. Thanks, for this info. But this is everywhere on the net, great if you live in the UK, US or Australia.

    But have you ever tried to find out what your rights are when visiting other countries. I live in Thailand and with rumours of another military coup in the air it would be nice if I could get information on this particular location.

    After all as an ex-pat living here I would feel safer knowing this kind of info.

    Recently the Olympic Tourch was here and I felt like going down to China Town to see if anything interesting happened. However the Authoroties here promised to crack down on foreigners here if they were deemed to be protesting, not only by removing them but by deporting them. I really didn’t feel like getting deported for taking a few photos.

    But what about all those other countries in the world, going on Holiday to Southern Africa? I wonder what your rights there would be? Or South East Asia? The Indian Sub-Continent? Europe? Americas?

    I’ve seen this info (mostly on the UK and US) umpteen times but what about the rest of the World?

  5. Pedro I am not sure that this is “everywhere on the net” has anything to do with the post or your point – are you saying we should not publish any information that you could access somewhere else? Would you deny this information to people who hadn’t seen it yet just because you have? I’d really like to know.

    As for the rest of the world…we put out a call for that information. We already got one response from Canada. Maybe more will come.

    And I always assume I have no rights at all when visiting other countries – and I’d particularly assume that of Thailand. Common sense is the best guide when you’re outside the US.

  6. Pedro I am not sure that this is “everywhere on the net” has anything to do with the post or your point – are you saying we should not publish any information that you could access somewhere else? Would you deny this information to people who hadn’t seen it yet just because you have? I’d really like to know.

    As for the rest of the world…we put out a call for that information. We already got one response from Canada. Maybe more will come.

    And I always assume I have no rights at all when visiting other countries – and I’d particularly assume that of Thailand. Common sense is the best guide when you’re outside the US.

  7. My input here is simple.. There are some rights that supersede (sp?) the rights of the photographer.

    Don’t photograph (mainly) police and military personnel without asking (either before or after).
    You may have every right to photograph them in public, but since it may have a negative effect on their safety at a later date, they should have the last word. It depends a lot on what kind of work they do, but since we as photographers most likely don’t know, we should be cautious.

    It’s mainly an issue if the final images makes them clearly identifiable, but I think it’s better to ask one time too many than not asking at all.

    It’s easier to get VIP access if you leave the VIP attitude at home. ;)

  8. My input here is simple.. There are some rights that supersede (sp?) the rights of the photographer.

    Don’t photograph (mainly) police and military personnel without asking (either before or after).
    You may have every right to photograph them in public, but since it may have a negative effect on their safety at a later date, they should have the last word. It depends a lot on what kind of work they do, but since we as photographers most likely don’t know, we should be cautious.

    It’s mainly an issue if the final images makes them clearly identifiable, but I think it’s better to ask one time too many than not asking at all.

    It’s easier to get VIP access if you leave the VIP attitude at home. ;)

  9. Great info. I have worked as a TV news cameraman beginning in 1984 and didn’t know all this. Very helpful to see it in print though I generally knew the outline of what is acceptable. Not being confrontational is usually the best advice but knowing what is legal is much better than just thinking you may be in the right. Thanks for the post.

  10. Great info. I have worked as a TV news cameraman beginning in 1984 and didn’t know all this. Very helpful to see it in print though I generally knew the outline of what is acceptable. Not being confrontational is usually the best advice but knowing what is legal is much better than just thinking you may be in the right. Thanks for the post.

  11. Snorre when the rights LEGALLY supersede those of the photographer I agree with you. When the law is on the photographer’s side – I think it’s a huge mistake to relinquish them in any way. The more room you give the government to take power over the media – including citizen media – the more likely you are to create a dictatorship.

    And there’s no VIP attitude in play here. In the USA we have rights – they’re not gifts or privileges – they are rights. We’re not portraying a VIP attitude when we assert them – we’re claiming what’s available to us under the law.

  12. Snorre when the rights LEGALLY supersede those of the photographer I agree with you. When the law is on the photographer’s side – I think it’s a huge mistake to relinquish them in any way. The more room you give the government to take power over the media – including citizen media – the more likely you are to create a dictatorship.

    And there’s no VIP attitude in play here. In the USA we have rights – they’re not gifts or privileges – they are rights. We’re not portraying a VIP attitude when we assert them – we’re claiming what’s available to us under the law.

  13. I’ve come across Bert Krages’ site and info before. He is here locally in Portland and is a very well known IP attorney and photographer. His information is extremely helpful.

  14. I’ve come across Bert Krages’ site and info before. He is here locally in Portland and is a very well known IP attorney and photographer. His information is extremely helpful.

  15. I remember reading on Fred Johnson’s twitter the other day he got harassed in San Francisco because his equipment looked “too professional.”

    I’ve got a copy of Mr. Krage’s pdf in each camera bag, and a copy sits in my car’s glove compartment right next to my Amateur Radio license and my “permission to have a scanner” from the State Police.

    I have yet (knock on wood) to be “gone after” by the authorities, but with today’s paranoid attitudes, I’m sure it will just be a matter of time. But so far (and there I go knocking on that piece of wood again) every time I’ve been shooting something and “the man” is around, I’ve had no problems. In fact, a few times, in conversation with them, I voluntarily show them what I’ve shot, and the most I get is comments about how the photo looked or “hey, maybe you can tell me what camera I should get my wife.”

    Maybe the cops where I live are more enlightened than in other places. :)

  16. I remember reading on Fred Johnson’s twitter the other day he got harassed in San Francisco because his equipment looked “too professional.”

    I’ve got a copy of Mr. Krage’s pdf in each camera bag, and a copy sits in my car’s glove compartment right next to my Amateur Radio license and my “permission to have a scanner” from the State Police.

    I have yet (knock on wood) to be “gone after” by the authorities, but with today’s paranoid attitudes, I’m sure it will just be a matter of time. But so far (and there I go knocking on that piece of wood again) every time I’ve been shooting something and “the man” is around, I’ve had no problems. In fact, a few times, in conversation with them, I voluntarily show them what I’ve shot, and the most I get is comments about how the photo looked or “hey, maybe you can tell me what camera I should get my wife.”

    Maybe the cops where I live are more enlightened than in other places. :)

  17. FYI, for your readers in Toronto, I put together a summary of your rights as a photographer in Toronto a little while ago:

    http://www.blogto.com/city/2007/07/your_rights_as_a_photographer_in_toronto/

    Love the podcast, thanks Scott!

  18. FYI, for your readers in Toronto, I put together a summary of your rights as a photographer in Toronto a little while ago:

    http://www.blogto.com/city/2007/07/your_rights_as_a_photographer_in_toronto/

    Love the podcast, thanks Scott!

  19. I had an interesting encounter this past weekend in Paso Robles, CA. I was returning from a wedding at a vineyard in Paso after dark. I noticed that some of the oak trees on the hills were silhouetted by the stars and thought it might be a good time to try a long exposure with my G9. I pulled off on a side road that was marked on my GPS as Creston Ridge Ln., drove about 25 yards, parked on the shoulder, pulled out my camera and proceeded to take pictures of the night sky. A few minutes later, another car turned off of the main road and approached me. I waved the car by thinking they might be stopping to render aid and said, “I’m ok, I’m just taking some pictures.”

    There was a woman driving the car and a male passenger. By her tone it was immediately apparent they weren’t stopping to render aid. Mind you, I’m dressed in a suit and tie and driving a late model BMW.

    Her: “What are you doing?” (exaggerated British accent)
    Me: “I’m just taking some pictures of the trees and the hills silhouetted by the stars.”
    Her: “Do you know how CRAAAAZY that sounds?”
    Me: “Well, Ma’am, I’m a photographer, I’m taking long exposure, low light photos.”
    Her: “I’ve never heard such a ridiculous thing. You’re on a PRIVATE ROOOAD!”
    Me: “I wasn’t aware of that.”
    Him: “You mean you didn’t see the huge sign at the start of the road that said PRIVATE ROAD.” (mind you it was pitch dark outside and the sign in question turned out to be nearly impossible to see from the direction I turned onto the road and other than that there was nothing visible to indicate it was anything other than a small country road.)
    Me: “No, I didn’t. But I’ll leave.”
    Her: “It’s a private ROOOOAD!”
    Me: “I know that now. I’ll leave.” (grabbing my camera and walking to the driver’s side of my car.)
    Him: “So you leaving now, or do I need to help you along?” (a definite threat)
    Me: “No, I’m leaving. You folks have a nice night. You’re REALLY pleasant people!”
    (at which point they drove off and I got in my car and left)

    It was one of those incidents that lowers my opinion of human beings. I tend to assume most interactions with strangers are going to be positive until proven otherwise. These people are obviously NOT of that same mindset. I kept my cool, didn’t escalate the situation and still got my pictures.

    Here’s the one decent picture I got:

    Starry skyline

  20. I had an interesting encounter this past weekend in Paso Robles, CA. I was returning from a wedding at a vineyard in Paso after dark. I noticed that some of the oak trees on the hills were silhouetted by the stars and thought it might be a good time to try a long exposure with my G9. I pulled off on a side road that was marked on my GPS as Creston Ridge Ln., drove about 25 yards, parked on the shoulder, pulled out my camera and proceeded to take pictures of the night sky. A few minutes later, another car turned off of the main road and approached me. I waved the car by thinking they might be stopping to render aid and said, “I’m ok, I’m just taking some pictures.”

    There was a woman driving the car and a male passenger. By her tone it was immediately apparent they weren’t stopping to render aid. Mind you, I’m dressed in a suit and tie and driving a late model BMW.

    Her: “What are you doing?” (exaggerated British accent)
    Me: “I’m just taking some pictures of the trees and the hills silhouetted by the stars.”
    Her: “Do you know how CRAAAAZY that sounds?”
    Me: “Well, Ma’am, I’m a photographer, I’m taking long exposure, low light photos.”
    Her: “I’ve never heard such a ridiculous thing. You’re on a PRIVATE ROOOAD!”
    Me: “I wasn’t aware of that.”
    Him: “You mean you didn’t see the huge sign at the start of the road that said PRIVATE ROAD.” (mind you it was pitch dark outside and the sign in question turned out to be nearly impossible to see from the direction I turned onto the road and other than that there was nothing visible to indicate it was anything other than a small country road.)
    Me: “No, I didn’t. But I’ll leave.”
    Her: “It’s a private ROOOOAD!”
    Me: “I know that now. I’ll leave.” (grabbing my camera and walking to the driver’s side of my car.)
    Him: “So you leaving now, or do I need to help you along?” (a definite threat)
    Me: “No, I’m leaving. You folks have a nice night. You’re REALLY pleasant people!”
    (at which point they drove off and I got in my car and left)

    It was one of those incidents that lowers my opinion of human beings. I tend to assume most interactions with strangers are going to be positive until proven otherwise. These people are obviously NOT of that same mindset. I kept my cool, didn’t escalate the situation and still got my pictures.

    Here’s the one decent picture I got:

    Starry skyline

  21. [...] in Ontario. Of course, it’s been collated by a non-lawyer, so your kilometerage may vary. Via TWIP comments. Colophone Author: Erigami Scholey-Fuller Categories: Applied Politics, Good, Links, Ontario, [...]

  22. [...] in Ontario. Of course, it’s been collated by a non-lawyer, so your kilometerage may vary. Via TWIP comments. Colophone Author: Erigami Scholey-Fuller Categories: Applied Politics, Good, Links, Ontario, [...]

  23. At New Orleans Jazz Fest this past weekend I saw a sign I had never seen: No cameras with detachable lenses allowed. This was at the entrance to a standing room area in front of the large stage. So I could not bring in my D300, but if it had been last year I could have brought in my Nikon 8800 with a 10:1 zoom?

  24. At New Orleans Jazz Fest this past weekend I saw a sign I had never seen: No cameras with detachable lenses allowed. This was at the entrance to a standing room area in front of the large stage. So I could not bring in my D300, but if it had been last year I could have brought in my Nikon 8800 with a 10:1 zoom?

  25. This is an issue that needs to be talked about and fought for… Ben Franklin was pretty spot on.

    I think the only way to get beyond this it to get to a time where EVERYONE take pictures and records everything they see. Cameras built into glasses, cars, etc… Sure it may bog down the web or any other viewing platform but it may get the “powers that be” so frustrated they will realize they can’t really do anything so why bother.

    So we will be swamped with a lot of crappy photos but will be able to shoot just about anything we want without hassle.

    Also.. would a terrorist go around taking pics with the best camera they could buy that stuck out like a sore thumb? Anyone that uses that as an argument is an idiot so sorry security guards and cops… if the shoe fits.

    darn one last thing… when a cop hassles you about taking pictures you may want to ask them if they swore to protect your constitutional rights (US only I guess)?

    arrrrgh ok I’m worked up…. good topic, do a show on it

  26. Jeff you know – there is no limit to the stupidity of some people. I was at the San Jose Sharks game Sunday – saw a sign that said ” Photography allowed – no lenses over six inches .”

    Now presumably what this means is that you can take pictures – just not good ones. What the Sharks don’t know is that a Canon 400 F/4 IS DO lens is 5.5 inches long and would get that pro shot for photographers who know how to use it.

    The only way to fight this is be vocal and to make sure we spend our money at places where our hobby/profession is respected.

  27. Jeff you know – there is no limit to the stupidity of some people. I was at the San Jose Sharks game Sunday – saw a sign that said ” Photography allowed – no lenses over six inches .”

    Now presumably what this means is that you can take pictures – just not good ones. What the Sharks don’t know is that a Canon 400 F/4 IS DO lens is 5.5 inches long and would get that pro shot for photographers who know how to use it.

    The only way to fight this is be vocal and to make sure we spend our money at places where our hobby/profession is respected.

  28. Hi,

    Thanks for the links, Scott. Very useful and sound advice. I despair now at how the USA and the UK are becoming police states and it seems every other day more rights are taken away from us.

    Allen, you made some interesting points. I can foresee a day when everyone will be implanted with chips that record everything that they see not sure how long it would be into the future but I think it’ll become possible within the next 20-30 years. If our rights continue to be eroded we may not even be allowed to access the feeds from these chips without government permission.

    I can also foresee a time when almost all public buildings and places will be “copyrighted” under the insane progression of IP laws making it almost impossible to photograph anything.

  29. It is a really sad situation. The rights that we have lost and the intrusion of the police into our everyday life have both really exceed what I thought was possible in our country. Living on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, I witness this everyday. I suspect that folks who live in the middle of America have less of an opportunity see it on such a routine basis.

    It is really important that we maintain our freedom of expression — which includes the right to take and publish photographs. The loss of life on September 11, 2001, was without a doubt one of the most tragic events in our history. Having witnessed those event firsthand, I appreciate the need for security. Nevertheless, we have a greater need to protect our Constitution and a duty to those who lost their lives not to let that terrorist act ruin our Country.

  30. It is a really sad situation. The rights that we have lost and the intrusion of the police into our everyday life have both really exceed what I thought was possible in our country. Living on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, I witness this everyday. I suspect that folks who live in the middle of America have less of an opportunity see it on such a routine basis.

    It is really important that we maintain our freedom of expression — which includes the right to take and publish photographs. The loss of life on September 11, 2001, was without a doubt one of the most tragic events in our history. Having witnessed those event firsthand, I appreciate the need for security. Nevertheless, we have a greater need to protect our Constitution and a duty to those who lost their lives not to let that terrorist act ruin our Country.

  31. Scott: Is it possible that the Sharks’ restriction on lens length is a physical safety issue, not a photographic one? By that I’m referring to the potential that a long lens in the tight quarters of the stands might bother or accidentally hit someone else. Dunno if that’s true, just thinking out loud.

  32. Scott: Is it possible that the Sharks’ restriction on lens length is a physical safety issue, not a photographic one? By that I’m referring to the potential that a long lens in the tight quarters of the stands might bother or accidentally hit someone else. Dunno if that’s true, just thinking out loud.

  33. JD they may use that excuse. Can you help me understand how you could be injured by a six inch lens but not one that is five point eight inches long?

  34. JD they may use that excuse. Can you help me understand how you could be injured by a six inch lens but not one that is five point eight inches long?

  35. Hi Scott. Great article bringing these things to people’s attention. Just what they do with it is, of course, up to them. Human stupidity knows no bounds, but I like to think that laws are there to protect people’s rights – the unfortunate thing is that the appointed custodians (and often self-appointed) are often mean-spirited or over-zealous people, or just plain mis-led. With my daughter studying photography and university and doing lots of location work, it’s a timely reminder. Australia doesn’t have as many problems as the US (or Thailand!!!) in this regard though.

  36. For Boston MBTA (subway, buses, commuter rail, etc.): http://transitpolice.us/Photo%20Policy/Photo%20Policy%201.pdf

    From the linked policy:

    “No permit is required for non-commercial/personal use pictures taken in public areas. However, any person taking pictures on, in, or of MBTA property, vehicles, or employees must provide proper identification* upon request of an MBTA Transit Police Officer or other MBTA Official. The MBTA Transit Police Officer or other MBTA Official may allow the person to take pictures at the specific location under the following conditions:
    • the person provides proper identification;
    • the circumstances indicate that the subject(s) of the picture(s) does/do not pose a security or safety threat or in any way cause disruption of service or operations of the MBTA; and
    • the picture(s) is/are for personal or educational use only (e.g., tourist, railroad buff, student, artist, etc.).
    Non-commercial photographers are prohibited from using tripods, monopods, wiring or any like equipment that may have an impact on the safety of customers or employees and are prohibited from interfering with the free flow of passengers or disrupting service in any manner.
    *Photo identification that includes, at a minimum, name, address, and
    date of birth.”

    MBTA police love to have a show of force by patrolling with K9 units and equipping themselves with fully automatic weapons. I take issue with the use of such weapons and intend to photography them. If I twitter “arrested” please come help me wherever I am in Boston :)

  37. For Boston MBTA (subway, buses, commuter rail, etc.): http://transitpolice.us/Photo%20Policy/Photo%20Policy%201.pdf

    From the linked policy:

    “No permit is required for non-commercial/personal use pictures taken in public areas. However, any person taking pictures on, in, or of MBTA property, vehicles, or employees must provide proper identification* upon request of an MBTA Transit Police Officer or other MBTA Official. The MBTA Transit Police Officer or other MBTA Official may allow the person to take pictures at the specific location under the following conditions:
    • the person provides proper identification;
    • the circumstances indicate that the subject(s) of the picture(s) does/do not pose a security or safety threat or in any way cause disruption of service or operations of the MBTA; and
    • the picture(s) is/are for personal or educational use only (e.g., tourist, railroad buff, student, artist, etc.).
    Non-commercial photographers are prohibited from using tripods, monopods, wiring or any like equipment that may have an impact on the safety of customers or employees and are prohibited from interfering with the free flow of passengers or disrupting service in any manner.
    *Photo identification that includes, at a minimum, name, address, and
    date of birth.”

    MBTA police love to have a show of force by patrolling with K9 units and equipping themselves with fully automatic weapons. I take issue with the use of such weapons and intend to photography them. If I twitter “arrested” please come help me wherever I am in Boston :)

  38. Im relocating to Ireland from Seattle. Anybody know what the rights are for a phtographer there, I got stopped once by local Guarda there while I was taking pictures of a tram, they were very nice but it was a little scary. Since Ireland had a history with terrorism I would be very interested of knowing what is allowed and what is not

  39. Im relocating to Ireland from Seattle. Anybody know what the rights are for a phtographer there, I got stopped once by local Guarda there while I was taking pictures of a tram, they were very nice but it was a little scary. Since Ireland had a history with terrorism I would be very interested of knowing what is allowed and what is not

Comments are closed.

About scottbourne

Founder of Photofocus.com. Retired traveling and unhooking from the Internet.

Category

Technique & Tutorials

Tags