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Legal Rights for Photographers - The Facts

The legal ramifications of being a photographer in this day and age seem to be often discussed and opinionated about on photography forums, but not backed up by much fact.
This is in no small part due to the fact that the people who participate in photography forums are often located in different countries and are covered by different laws - so when these things get discussed invariably the conversation becomes vague or misleading.

Well I have just stumbled across an excellent article written by Andrew Nemeth, a photographer with a Law degree.
While the article is quite specific to Australian law (in fact NSW law), it contains excellent links at the end for people in other countries to get the same kind of information with regards to their own local laws.
And for those Australians who don't live in NSW, it seems to me that this article is probably 98% applicable to other states as well. There may be a couple of obscure or subtle differences in some states (NSW seems to have specific workplace surveillance laws for example), but I'm fairly certain the general guidelines are just as relevent.

It even includes a very handy little 2-page PDF written for you to download, print to have handy in your camera bag.... kind of an FAQ of legal rights and responsibilities for both photographer and subject. If you ever get questioned in the street, it could be a very handy resource to pull out and discuss - not just in an "I'm right and you're wrong" kind of way, but it is written in such a way that it could actually help diffuse a heated situation and reassure an irate or involuntary subject that the person behind the camera really is being respectful to others and trying to behave within a clearly-defined ethical and legal framework. Good stuff.

Oh, and I also found a number of myths dispelled and murky terms clarified as well. Things like the definition of a "Commercial Photograph" which was quite a surprise to me. Also the cases behind some recent news stories are discussed and clarified (local councils banning photography at beaches and swimming pools, photographers being assaulted or having gear confiscated, etc).

But stop reading what I'm saying about it... and go read the article itself! (And scroll down for other links if you are a non-Aussie).

Adrian Broughton
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"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler." - Einstein.

Hey Adrian, that is a great find indeed - he puts it very succinctly and is well researched too (lots of past cases to back up the claims).

Some thoughts or observations:

- no permission required for taking photos of people, including children. Wow... of course he talks about morals and aesthetics, but legally - you're not obliged to get permission. If you're using the pic for commercial gain though, that's another matter (model releases still apply etc.)

- private vs public land - on public land you're free to snap away, but on private land (shopping malls, etc.) you're bound by the will of the owner. The one that surprised me was that markets are considered private land! I wonder - does that mean if a stall owner tells you to stop shooting, is the stall owner the "owner" of the land? Or is the real owner the owner of the market?

While it's good to know your rights, at the end of the day though if a big burly man came up to me and started verbally abusing me for taking photos in public, I'm not sure what I'd do. I'd probably quickly and quietly leave to avoid any fuss or bodily harm... what do people think?

I think the downloadable document could be handed to him. Though i wouldn't stick around to discuss the finer details if he was hot headed.
It depends what his complaint is too. I might offer to send him a copy of the photo if he signs a model release Tongue

The sample model release is really handy too.

Thanks for the link Kombi, very helpful

Canon 350D with Speedlight 580EX flash
EFS 18-55 f/3.5-5.6 II, EF 90-300mm f/4.5-5.6 USM, EF 50mm f/1.8

Thanks for the link Adrian.

Sit, stay, ok, hold it! Awww, no drooling! :O
My flickr images

I knew that the law in Germany was very special in this regard... I just read it... and I am so happy my subjects are trees and birds Smile

Thanks a lot for the link Kombi... Smile

A work of art which did not begin in emotion is not art.
Paul Cezanne

Here's the same thing for US Law -

And UK Law:-

I'll need to study the uk version, thanks for the link.

Alastair says "Visit My Blog?"

Interesting personal experience of someone being harrassed while taking photos of a building, while on public land.

The comments are worth reading too...

i am also glad that i do not shoot in very populated areas . I have never had a run in with anyone ( yet Big Grin ) .

Thanks for the links yall. They are very useful


Canon 20d and a few cheap lenses ..

It is our job as photographers to show people what they saw but didnt realize they saw it ......

Great link Adrian.

Canon stuff.

It may not be a matter of legality, but last week I was walking on a public sidewalk and bent over to photograph the buds on someone's tree. The tree was on what would be considered public property but under the homeowner's watch so to speak. The homeowner came out of her house and asked me what I was doing. Then she demanded that I not take pictures there. My choice was to continue and defy her or to walk on. I don't want trouble with my neighbors (any more than I already have). People are crazy when it comes to cameras.

Nikon D3100 with Tokina 28-70mm f3.5, (I like to use a Vivitar .43x aux on the 28-70mm Tokina), Nikkor 10.5 mm fisheye, Quanteray 70-300mm f4.5, ProOptic 500 mm f6.3 mirror lens.

Why did the man at the beach taking pictures with his camera phone get fined?

cool finds everyone! thanks a lot.

jules, as for the stall keepers: I ususally walk away rather sooner than later if they tell me not to shoot, so they don't start shooting (at) me Tongue


This is extremely useful, thanks. I wonder if it's any different in Qld.

Sony A700/ 16-80mm / 70-300mm / 11-18 mm / 100mm macro

My Flickr page

Another interesting article, this time from the US. Apparently there are some buildings you can't photograph....

How would you be supposed to know if you can or cannot photograph a particular building?

Sony A700/ 16-80mm / 70-300mm / 11-18 mm / 100mm macro

My Flickr page

RP: exactly... :o

I guess the rule would be, if in doubt, ask. I mean if you go in to a building and ask if you're allowed to take pictures, the worst they can do is say no.

Sony A700/ 16-80mm / 70-300mm / 11-18 mm / 100mm macro

My Flickr page

That's very useful information. Even folks who work on stolen shots should also be fined. I've been a victim of this many times and when I call their attention, they just run away. I don't know where they take my photos.Creepy.

I am glad you posted this - very useful.


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