Legality of photography in public spaces (USA)

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by Eauboy, Mar 5, 2008.

  1. Eauboy macrumors regular

    Eauboy

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    Jan 28, 2008
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    Washington, DC
    #1
    Can anyone comment on or point me toward a resource on any legal considerations for shooting in public spaces? I am in the United States.

    My rather shallow understanding is that people and structures in public spaces are fair game, provided you don't use a person's recognizable face in a sold image. Does that sound right, or can people in public spaces rightfully demand that I do not take their photo?

    Please note that I am not talking about the very real social obligation to not harass people. I'm not asking permission to shove my lens in someone's face then crow about them not being able to do anything about it. I just want to have a well-founded response if someone objects to a candid shot with them in it.

    A poster in another thread also mentioned being driven away by police when doing some night photography in a public space. This is a problem I've dealt with myself. I'd be extremely hesitant to ignore a 'suggestion' to move along, but I just hate being the victim of ignorance.

    Thanks...
     
  2. AliensAreFuzzy macrumors 68000

    AliensAreFuzzy

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    Madison, WI
    #2
    This Week in Photography just had a great podcast where they discussed this for a long time. From what they said, being in a public place, you can take pictures as much as you want because when a person is in public they give up any reasonable right to privacy.
    I'm no lawyer, this is just what I heard.
     
  3. ChrisA macrumors G4

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    Redondo Beach, California
    #3
    I think you have it correct. As long as you are shooting from a place where you could walk around, your camera would not see anything that the public could not see. But they draw a line if you climb up on something tall and/or use a telephoto lens to shoot into a window or over a fence. You can't say "I shot from a public sidewalk". No. Your argument has to be "The subject was in public view".

    One other thing you left out is private property like a shopping mall. The owner can always ask you to leave and I don't think he even needs a reason.
     
  4. Le Big Mac macrumors 68020

    Le Big Mac

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    #4
    If the article the OP saw is the one I remember seeing in the Washington Post (and reprinted broadly) it turned out the person was on private property--some sort of outdoor mall--and the security firm asked him to stop. The debate was in large part over "public" spaces that are not really public.
     
  5. Hmac macrumors 68020

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    Midwest USA
    #5
    Often, the problem comes down to practicality. You may be shooting in a public space, yet a security guard or even police officer comes up and tells you that you can't shoot there. Often, these guys don't even understand the law. You can insist on your rights, but it may take a trip "downtown" to get it sorted out. In many cases, it's more practical to avoid the hassle and put your camera away, depending on how strongly you feel about asserting your rights, and how much time you have to invest in the incident.
     
  6. valdore macrumors 65816

    valdore

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    #6
    Tell the power-tripping rentacops to f*** off. They have no legal right to dictate that you cannot take a picture when occupying public space. I've had run ins with these idiots countless times. Be sure to point out to them that they have no right to restrict photography. What's even worse are the idiots who hire the rentacops who believe photography is illegal. I was in downtown Wichita in October and this bitch tried to tell me I couldn't take a picture with some stupid state government building in the shot. I informed her she was wrong and her moronic superiors were wrong, but she sure seemed to not expect me to stand up for myself in the face of her idiocy and the idiocy of her stupid combed over paranoid bureaucratic superiors.
     
  7. jbernie macrumors 6502a

    jbernie

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    Denver, CO
    #7
    A friend of mine was here in Denver and wanted to take a photo inside the Apple store within Cherry Creek Mall, spoke with the Manager to get approval and was denied. He left it at that.

    Then again, if you think about it, how many people show in all sorts of photos tourists take? The big difference is they are normally using P&S or an SLR camera by itself and we are more likely to be carrying extra equipment which for some reason raises supicions.
     
  8. valdore macrumors 65816

    valdore

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    Kansas City, Missouri. USA
    #8
    Well, inside private property is a whole different matter - and we don't have many rights to photograph private property without the owner's consent. My objection though are the busybody morons who think we live in a police state and object to photography on public property. Although there have been numerous times I've gone to the top of parking garages (private property) to take elevated urban photos, and I've never been run off, at least not yet.
     
  9. Hmac macrumors 68020

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    Midwest USA
    #9

    Well, that's one approach. However doing so assumes that they'll just hang their head and slink off. That's not necessarily the way it's going to work in the real world. Sometimes, if you are reasonable, they'll see it your way. Sometimes, if you're not, you'll end up in more of a hassle than you have time for.

    Best approach is usually going to be be nice, be reasonable. Jerk 'em around, they're likely to jerk back.
     
  10. rhomsy macrumors regular

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    Jul 6, 2007
    #10
    I think the "other post" you guys are referring to is mine. In my Night HDR thread, I mentioned that the police kicked me out taking photographs of the city and moored ships. I was on public property, and the clown-of-a-cop even admitted it to me. If I wasn't in a rush, I would have stood my ground and told him that I wouldn't leave. They would either have to back down or arrest me.

    Arresting me would be a very bad idea because I know my rights. I am an attorney and I have been involved in some expensive civil rights suits. My wife is also an attorney, and a great number of my friends are attorneys. I would pursue every course of action under the law to punish them and compensate me for violating my civil rights.

    The short of it is this: I'd rather be arrested than cede my rights to clowns wearing police uniforms. If I may quote Scott Bourne from This Week in Photography, "I believe that if photographers don't stand up for their rights, they will surely forfeit them."
     
  11. Eauboy thread starter macrumors regular

    Eauboy

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    Jan 28, 2008
    Location:
    Washington, DC
    #11
    Exactly! I was taking photos in Metro (DC's subway) and got screamed at by the station attendant: "You can't take photos of the tunnel!" Yeah, because the terrorists have NO idea that there are tunnels here. Shhhh!

    Granted, the inside of the Metro system -although public transportation- probably isn't public in the same sense that a sidewalk is. My real crime was using a tripod and carefully composing a shot to capture some blur. People snap camera-phone pix all the time, or use P&S, but those go by unnoticed.
     
  12. rhomsy macrumors regular

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    Jul 6, 2007
    #12
    I'll be going down to the piers again to take more photos in the near future. It's a very beautiful place and you can get great shots of the Boston skyline. I will not be giving up rights.
     
  13. Craiger77 macrumors member

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    Jan 6, 2004
    Location:
    Seattle, USA
    #13
    In regards to sold photographs it depends on what the final use is. If it is for editorial uses like in a newspaper or textbook than you don't need a model release for recognizable people and property in the photo if they are in a public place. If the photo is used for advertising then it is a whole different story because then it is implied that the person or property in the photo is promoting the product being advertised. No competent buyer of photographs are going to touch a photo for advertising that doesn't have a model release to go along with it.
     
  14. glennyboiwpg macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    Feb 16, 2007
    #14
    The only time I ran into this problem was when I was in London and was taking pictures inside of st pauls cathedral. I had the nuns running after me, telling me not to take pictures... "the flash damages the art on the ceiling"... I wasn't using flash.

    But ok whatever... what annoyed me was I was the only person she was going after... there was a whole lot of people taking pictures that they weren't going after.



    grrrrr
     

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