Author Topic: Photographers' Rights  (Read 1540 times)

Offline anondemosthenes

  • Fly in the Ointment
  • Posts: 54
Photographers' Rights
« on: November 12, 2009, 03:38 »
This is an important issue, as more and more frequently we are being told that we must turn off our cameras by ill-informed law enforcement officers.

The text below comes from attorney Bert P Krages and can be found on his website Bert P. Krages Attorney at Law Photographer's Rights Page as a downloadable PDF.  I would reccomend that all camera anons print and carry a copy of this pamphlet. 

About this Guide
Confrontations that impair the con-
stitutional right to make images are
becoming more common. To fight the
abuse of your right to free expression,
you need to know your rights to take
photographs and the remedies avail-
able if your rights are infringed.

The General Rule
The general rule in the United States
is that anyone may take photographs
of whatever they want when they are
in a public place or places where they
have permission to take photographs.
Absent a specific legal prohibition
such as a statute or ordinance, you are
legally entitled to take photographs.
Examples of places that are tradition-
ally considered public are streets,
sidewalks, and public parks.
Property owners may legally pro-
hibit photography on their premises
but have no right to prohibit others
from photographing their property
from other locations. Whether you
need permission from property own-
ers to take photographs while on their
premises depends on the circum-
stances. In most places, you may rea-
sonably assume that taking photo-
graphs is allowed and that you do not
need explicit permission. However,
this is a judgment call and you should
request permission when the circum-
stances suggest that the owner is like-
ly to object. In any case, when a prop-
erty owner tells you not to take photo-
graphs while on the premises, you are
legally obligated to honor the request.

Some Exceptions to the Rule
There are some exceptions to the
general rule. A significant one is that
commanders of military installations
can prohibit photographs of specific
areas when they deem it necessary to
protect national security. The U.S.
Department of Energy can also pro-
hibit photography of designated
nuclear facilities although the publicly
visible areas of nuclear facilities are
usually not  designated as such.
Members of the public have a very
limited scope of privacy rights when
they are in public places. Basically,
anyone can be photographed without
their consent except when they have
secluded themselves in places where
they have a reasonable expectation of
privacy such as dressing rooms, rest-
rooms, medical facilities, and inside
their homes.

Permissible Subjects
Despite  misconceptions to the con-
trary, the following subjects can
almost always be photographed law-
fully from public places:
accident and fire scenes
bridges and other infrastructure
residential and commercial buildings
industrial facilities and public utilities
transportation facilities (e.g., airports)
Superfund sites
criminal activities
law enforcement officers

Who Is Likely to Violate Your Rights
Most confrontations are started by
security guards and employees of
organizations who fear photography.
The most common reason given is
security but often such persons have
no articulated reason. Security is
rarely a legitimate reason for restrict-
ing photography. Taking a photo-
graph is not a terrorist act nor can a
business legitimately assert that tak-
ing a photograph of a subject in public
view  infringes on its trade secrets.
On occasion, law enforcement offi-
cers may object to photography but
most understand that people have the
right to take photographs and do not
interfere with photographers. They do
have the right to keep you away from
areas where you may impede their
activities or endanger safety. How-
ever, they do not have the legal right
to prohibit you from taking photo-
graphs from other locations.
They Have Limited Rights to Bother,
Question, or Detain You
Although anyone has the right to
approach a person in a public place
and ask questions, persistent and
unwanted conduct done without a
legitimate purpose is a crime in many
states if it causes serious annoyance.
You are under no obligation to explain
the purpose of your photography nor
do you have to disclose your identity
except in states that require it upon
request by a law enforcement officer.
If the conduct goes beyond mere
questioning, all states have laws that
make coercion and harassment crimi-
nal offenses. The specific elements
vary among the states but in general it
is unlawful for anyone to instill a fear
that they may injure you, damage or
take your property, or falsely accuse
you of a crime just because you are
taking photographs.
Private parties have very limited
rights to detain you against your will
and may be subject to criminal and
civil charges should they attempt to
do so. Although the laws in most
states authorize citizen’s arrests, such
authority is very narrow. In general,
citizen’s arrests can be made only for
felonies or crimes committed in the
person’s presence. Failure to abide by
these requirements usually means
that the person is liable for a tort such
as false imprisonment.
They Have No Right to Confiscate

Your Film
Sometimes agents acting for entities
such as owners of industrial plants
and shopping malls may ask you to
hand over your film. Absent a court
order, private parties have no right to
confiscate your film. Taking your film
directly or indirectly by threatening to
use force or  call a law enforcement
agency can constitute criminal offens-
es such as theft and coercion. It can
likewise constitute a civil tort such as
conversion. Law enforcement officers
may have the authority to seize film
when making an arrest  but otherwise
must obtain a court order.

Your Legal Remedies If Harassed
If someone has threatened, intimidat-
ed, or detained you because you were
taking photographs, they may be
liable for crimes such as kidnapping,
coercion, and theft. In such cases, you
should report them to the police.
You may also have civil remedies
against such persons and their
employers. The torts for which you
may be entitled to compensation
include assault, conversion, false
imprisonment, and violation of your
constitutional rights.

Other Remedies If  Harassed
If you are disinclined to take legal
action, there are still things you can do
that contribute to protecting the right
to take photographs.
(1) Call the local newspaper and see if
they are interested in running a story.
Many newspapers feel that civil liber-
ties are worthy of serious coverage.
(2) Write to or call the supervisor of
the person involved, or the legal or
public relations department of the
entity, and complain about the event.
(3) Make the event publicly known on
an Internet forum that deals with pho-
tography or civil rights issues.
How to Handle Confrontations
Most confrontations can be defused
by being courteous and respectful. If
the party becomes pushy, combative,
or unreasonably hostile, consider call-
ing the police. Above all, use good
judgment and don’t allow an event to
escalate into violence.
In the event you are threatened with
detention or asked to surrender your
film, asking the following questions
can help ensure that you will have the
evidence to enforce your legal rights:
1. What is the person’s name?
2. Who is their employer?
3. Are you free to leave? If not, how do
they intend to stop you if you decide
to leave? What legal basis do they
assert for the detention?
4. Likewise, if they demand your film,
what legal basis do they assert for the

This is a general education guide
about the right to take photographs
and is necessarily limited in scope.
For more information about the laws
that affect photography, I refer you to
the second edition of my book, Legal
Handbook for Photographers  (Amherst
Media, 2006).
This guide is not intended to be legal
advice nor does it create an attorney
client relationship. Readers should
seek the advice of a competent attor-
ney when they need legal advice
regarding a specific situation.

Offline Lorelei

  • Hill 10 Situation
  • Posts: 895
  • I can haz ferret.
Re: Photographers' Rights
« Reply #1 on: November 12, 2009, 06:07 »
This issue was discussed on CNN or HLN, forget which, just yesterday. A photographer was in a commuter train station taking photos and was challenged by a police officer.

Police officer's POV: This is a possible target for terrorism, and I must do my job and ask you why you are taking photos here, and I have patiently explained this to you multiple times and you don't seem to get it.
Photographer's POV: I have a First Amendment right to take photos in public wherever I please, I am offended that you are harassing me, and I am not a terrorist, AND I want your name and badge number.

It is a difficult situation.

I am inclined to sympathize with both parties, here. The officer DOES have a duty to help ensure public safety. The photographer DOES have a right to practice his craft. When the Venn Diagrams of these two motivations intersect, however, the middle area of intersection needs to be labeled BIG FAT MESS.

Another facet of the problem is that police officers are tasked with enforcing the law, but the law is in a fluid, constantly-evolving state and LEOs can not and do not know all up-to-date guidelines about what you are and are not allowed to do. No human being could possibly keep up with every single facet of every single law. They do their best to do their jobs, but are not lawyers. The vast majority of police officers WANT to make the problem go away, and to resolve disputes with the general public peacefully, though, LEOs being human, mistakes can be made AND, though it is rare, occasionally you run across an officer having a foul day or someone whose personality is not patient enough or ideally suited enough for a calm defusing of a volatile disagreement when under emotional strain or duress.

There was a video of the encounter between the officer and the photographer, and it was first published to YouTube and then shown on CNN / HLN. Personally, I think the photographer was borderline belligerent, and the police officer, in this case, was very, very patient. I have seen other videos where the opposite situation occurred: the photographer in question was quick to comply with the officer, but asserted that s/he was not engaged in any illegal activity nor planning to do so, and the officer collaring the photographer was completely unreasonable and not interested in whether the photographer was, indeed, planning any mischief or harm.

I think that IF you are planning on taking photographs of, say, something that MIGHT be considered a site of possible potential terrorist interest, it behooves you to find a LEO nearby, explain what you are doing, offer, if using a digital camera, to show him or her the shots, and to be polite. A simple "I know it is legal to take photos in a public place, but I just wanted to touch base with you first, and to let you know why I am doing it" can go a long way.

It sucks that we live in a country where the threat of terrorism has been proven to be real. Don't get me wrong, I think much of that threat was grossly exaggerated to keep the population docile and accepting of governmental intrusions into our privacy and about our supposed reasons to go to war (to a degree), but I also think that we can't be complacent about the possibility of more attempts, especially when we HEAR about new attempts every so often, and probably don't hear about dozens more that were squelched quickly by our peace officers.

Social engineering is one effective way that people who DO mean us harm lay the groundwork for serious business terrorist crap. That nice student with a backpack full of "books" taking a few pictures of our mass transit infrastructure couldn't possibly mean any harm, right? "Why, he doesn't even LOOK like one-a them Muslim fellers."

This sort of issue really shouldn't apply to any Anons, esp. not in our area. Our pictures are mostly of each other! When we do take pictures of buildings or structures, we are not doing anything with malign intent or revealing anything special that Google Maps hasn't already made available to anyone with an Internet connection. However, as you note, it IS applying to Anons. I don't think a set of guidelines for photographers will have any useful effect if you are confronted by an upset police officer.

There are some options available, and some aren't cheap.

Naturally, officers approach obvious cameras first. You can avoid that by using a button cam, or by using a less bulky model of camera. Button cams and pocket DVR recorders are PRICEY, but the have the advantage of pretty much seeing whatever you see, and, if you are attacked by an angry cultist, you definitely would get that assault on video. Of course, as these are button cams, you will probably get a HEADLESS angry cultist; that seems to be the major drawback of these "hidden" cameras. The closer someone comes to you, the more likely it is that you will have long stretches of simply scintillating footage of someone's chest from the neck down.

You can cultivate a positive relationship with your LEOs, as ATLanons have done. We have obeyed the law, complied with all requests, and been very careful to not be pains in the butt in any way (except to the cultists, of course, who do not like being protested, even though we are ALWAYS peaceful).

You can offer to show what you have shot to the LEOs, and to provide copies. This may or may not work, but with digital cameras, it is certainly not a financial hardship to do'll just have to "pay" in time spent.

I'd say the most important guideline is to remain polite and cooperative and understanding if confronted by a legitimate LEO who simply does not know the legal scope photographers have in public places, and to assert your rights, but to realize when you're in a no-win situation and to back down unless you feel like dealing with lawyers and angry LEOs. Again, courtesy and empathy for the officer trying to do his or her job will probably get you a lot farther than being a confrontational asshole screaming about your First Amendment rights, even if--and this is the hard part--YOU are 100% correct and in the right.
« Last Edit: November 12, 2009, 06:12 by Lorelei »
"Once the foundation of a revolution has been laid down, it is almost always
in the next generation that the revolution is accomplished." -- Jean d'Alembert

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Re: Photographers' Rights
« Reply #2 on: November 12, 2009, 08:35 »
It is a tough situation.

I've never been asked to turn off my camera.  However, I would point out I'm recording incase the sci do something illegal and site the cities that this has occurred at.  I would think starting with what occurred in Nash would be the best route.

Offline Stutroup

  • Supressive Person
  • Posts: 436
Re: Photographers' Rights
« Reply #3 on: November 12, 2009, 13:44 »
There's another thread about photography law, but more specific to Georgia.  It's a little scary how specific some states can be about what is and isn't considered legal for taking photographs.

It's just a reminder that the above information may become a little different by state.

Most states have the "expectation of privacy" which i do agree with -- to most of its extent.  Some states, however, forbid hiding while taking a photograph, or forbid photographing people with a telephoto lens.

It's also good to know your state's laws regarding photography.

(I am thankful, though for the pdf!)

Offline Lorelei

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  • I can haz ferret.
Re: Photographers' Rights
« Reply #4 on: November 17, 2009, 01:47 »
If Georgia forbids hiding while taking photos or videos, then perhaps we need to be diligent about pointing out any Shrubbery Scilons we see to the po-po.
"Once the foundation of a revolution has been laid down, it is almost always
in the next generation that the revolution is accomplished." -- Jean d'Alembert

The Human Wiki.
"I spend hours surfing the web for information, so you don't have to!"

Offline Stutroup

  • Supressive Person
  • Posts: 436
Re: Photographers' Rights
« Reply #5 on: November 17, 2009, 14:05 »
I honestly have my reasons to not really want to pursue this, unless it gets bad.  It's more of an awareness issue:  We know they're there, they know we're there, and they know we take their pictures for being there.

It makes me especially happy to have a 300mm telephoto zoom lens, and also a tripod mount lens of twice that and more, if I choose to take that one along.

But at even a decent resolution, faces are more than recognizable to the rear of the parking lot.