Street photographers, know your rights! *Updated*

Posted on by Bellamy


Street photographers, know your rights!
There is a worrying amount of news about photographers being stopped illegally for taking pictures, being unlawfully searched and detained and harassed. I thought it might be helpful for us to build a resource for the laws in different countries.

Recently I have been seeing people who have details about the law in their bags, as it seems that in some countries the public perception of photographers has shifted somewhat. There are a lot of reports coming from various parts of the world of photographers being accosted by the law (or overblown security guards). I have even had it in the UK, being told that I would be arrested if I continued to take photos in a shopping mall, as it is private property.
Obviously there are some things that you cannot take pictures of (like the secret military installation I tried to get pictures of in Kazakhstan). But walking down the street and in the general public should not be a cause for harassment.

What I have decided to do is compile a list for you for different countries on the laws and your rights.
This is not even close to a complete list but it is a work in progress. Feel free to add your country or any information that you have in the comments section.
If you have a link that is pertinent I shall add it to the piece as it progresses. This is intended not just to be a reference resource for residents but visitors of the countries too.

The list is coming on well and thanks to you guys I have been able to add more info. Please keep the info coming and keep the pace up. We need to get people motivated. Don’t let people tell you that you cannot shoot when in fact you can. 

Australia http://www.artslaw.com.au/images/uploads/Street_photographers_rights.pdf

Canada http://ambientlight.ca/laws/

France http://www.eschon.com/photographie-de-rue-la-loi-en-france/

Japan http://tonymcnicol.com/2009/01/26/photography-in-japan-what-are-your-rights/ I am looking for more detailed info for Japan if someone has it.

Luxembourg https://www.cases.lu/droit-a-l-image.html

New Zealand http://www.police.govt.nz/faq/items/23297

Norway http://hannemyr.com/faq/legal_dm07.shtml#limph and http://hannemyr.com/faq/legal_dm07.shtml#stret

Singapore (some details in this forum piece) http://www.reddotphoto.com.sg/forums/showthread.php/370-Legal-Issues-on-Photography-in-Public-and-Private-Places-in-Singapore

The United Kingdom www.the-aop.org/download/14106 (direct PDF download of bust card) It seems that photographernotaterrorist.org has been shut down.
Here is some more info from the Met in the UK http://www.met.police.uk/about/photography.htm

The USA http://www.krages.com/ThePhotographersRight.pdf Need more info about state laws and federal laws.

- Here are some rules for New York http://everydayaperture.com/law/

I would really like to have all of your help and input of this so that we can build a complete resource for as many countries as possible. The more we know the more we can protect ourselves and keep on shooting without harassment.

Thanks
JCH

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18 Responses to Street photographers, know your rights! *Updated*

mathieu ono February 20, 2013 at 4:23 am

in France, you can shoot freely anyone in the street, but need a form to be signed if you want to publish/make exhibitions with the picture. the law is quite difficult since some years, but it might change. for the buildings, you can shoot without any problem as long as the architect is passed away at least 70 years ago.

Reply
David February 20, 2013 at 12:04 pm

NYC : You can’t take photographs in the New York City subway: You most often hear this from cops and MTA workers. This is complete hogwash. Here’s the MTA rules regarding photography:

Section 1050.9

Restricted areas and activities.

No person, except as specifically authorized by the Authority, shall enter or attempt to enter into any area not open to the public, including but not limited to train operator’s cabs, conductor’s cabs, bus operator’s seat location, station booths, closed-off areas, mechanical or equipment rooms, concession stands, storage areas, interior rooms, catwalks, emergency stairways (except in cases of an emergency), tracks, roadbeds, tunnels, plants, shops, barns, train yards, garages, depots or any area marked with a sign restricting access or indicating a dangerous environment.
No vehicle, except as specifically authorized, may be parked on Authority property.
Photography, filming or video recording in any facility or conveyance is permitted except that ancillary equipment such as lights, reflectors or tripods may not be used. Members of the press holding valid identification issued by the New York City Police Department are hereby authorized to use necessary ancillary equipment. All photographic activity must be conducted in accordance with the provisions of this Part.
No person may ride on the roof, platform between subway cars or on any other area outside any subway car or bus or other conveyance operated by the Authority. No person may use the end doors of a subway car to pass from one subway car to another except in an emergency or when directed to do so by an Authority conductor or a New York City police officer.
No person shall extend his or her hand, arm, leg, head or other part of his or her person, or extend any item, article or other substance outside of the window or door of a subway car, bus or other conveyance operated by the Authority.
No person shall enter or leave a subway car, bus or other conveyance operated by the Authority except through the entrances and exits provided for that purpose.
No person may carry on or bring to any facility or conveyance any item that:
is so long as to extend outside the window or door of a subway car, bus or other conveyance;
constitutes a hazard to the operation of the Authority, interferes with passenger traffic, or impedes service; or
constitutes a danger or hazard to other persons.
Nothing contained in this section shall apply to the use of wheelchairs, crutches, canes or other physical assistance devices.
However, just because the MTA permits photography doesn’t mean you have a carte blanche to do whatever the hell you want, particularly if the police are asking you what you’re doing. Under People v. Debour, police interactions with individuals on the street are governed by a sliding, four part scale, which is slightly different than the federal system, which affords fewer protections than New York State does. On the most minimal of levels, Level One, the police must have an objective credible reason to speak with you. It’s called a request for information. There’s not much to this and pretty much anything is going to get the police to this level. After all, part of their job is at least hypothetically, to investigate conduct, and that conduct doesn’t necessarily have to be criminal on its face. Level Two is a common law right of inquiry which must be supported by at least founded suspicion. This kind of stop is definitely more pointed in questioning toward the criminal side and, most importantly, as it relates here, the police can request consent to search. Level Three is a forcible detention based upon reasonable suspicion. It can resemble an arrest. This is a Terry v. Ohio kind of stop, which is much more invasive than the prior two. The final level is the arrest, which requires probable cause.

There could be a slippery slope argument blasted against me about what I’m going to say next but here it goes anyway. In the society and world we live now, would we not want the police to go up to an individual in the subway taking pictures and begin asking a few questions about what is going on? Indeed, it’s more of a rhetorical question not simply to try to put yourself in the shoes of society, but more specifically how the law views and treats these types of situations. The Fourth Amendment, which in the end really governs the nuts and bolts of the majority of the law of street photography as opposed to the First Amendment, is an amorphous living beast. What may not have been reasonable twenty years ago, as determined by the courts, is now reasonable. This doesn’t make it right, but to understand, perhaps pessimistically so, that the concept of right has nothing to do with the law.

Issues with street photographers in the subway generally revolve in the Level 1 and Level 2 stages. Remember, though, Debour is a sliding scale, which means things can rapidly escalate depending on the circumstances. Thus, in a Level 1 inquiry where a police officer asks, “Excuse me, what’s going on with the photography?”, and your response is, “I don’t have to tell you anything asshole because I have the right not to say anything,” is just going to lead to more questions by the police. You certainly don’t have to even answer the question, but then again you don’t have to look both ways when you cross the street either. Depending on the circumstances, and mind you, the law views the circumstances in the eyes of a reasonable police officer, not your subjective views, it would be reasonable for the police to continue to ask you questions, and probably more pointed questions that will make you feel uncomfortable. Probably best to say what you’re doing. If they ask you they want to see your pictures, then it’s best to either show them a photo or draw a line the sand in the most polite way possible.

2) It’s against the law to take pictures of police: There is no law forbidding you to take pictures of the police so long as you are in a public place. Like everything else with the law, there are exceptions. If your actions obstruct the administration of their lawful duties, and that’s a big fucking if, your right to photograph will be curtailed. For instance, if they’re trying to arrest someone and you get in the middle of it, literally in the middle of it, you could arguably be obstructing governmental administration. It’s the conduct that the crime of “OGA” is technically punishing, not the photography.

NY Penal Law Section 195.05 Obstructing governmental administration in the second degree. A person is guilty of obstructing governmental administration when he intentionally obstructs, impairs or perverts the administration of law or other governmental function or prevents or attempts to prevent a public servant from performing an official function, by means of intimidation, physical force or interference, or by means of any independently unlawful act, or by means of interfering, whether or not physical force is involved, with radio, telephone, television or other telecommunications systems owned or operated by the state, or a county, city, town, village, fire district or emergency medical service or by means of releasing a dangerous animal under circumstances evincing the actor`s intent that the animal obstruct governmental administration.

3) You can’t take pictures of buildings or bridges: There’s nothing in the law that prevents you from doing this. The laws about taking photographs from the bridge (some bridges, such as the George Washington, have signs like this) are, at least arguably, permissible under the law under the theory that the expected act of taking photographs from where the signs are posted forbidding them would be dangerous to traffic.

And one final word. Just because you know the law doesn’t mean the cop does. And unless you have a badge of some kind, arguing with a cop about the law — as a general rule — rarely ends well. If you are going to argue, make sure you keep your arms to the side and never, ever push a cop or hit a cop unless you want to spend the night in jail. In New York, there is essentially no such thing as a valid self defense claim against a cop who is trying to effectuate an arrest. That is not just some observation. It’s the law. See generally Penal Law Section 35.27. The arrest doesn’t even have to be a valid one for this provision to apply. As you can see, the whole thing is a fucking set up . . . so just be careful.

Reply
Tom Stappers May 11, 2013 at 2:15 am

There is an extremely handy small booklet summarizing many legal aspects of street photography, but alas, only in Dutch. It’s issued by the FotografenFederatie, http://www.fotografenfederatie.nl, and was given to the police too, I’ve heard. For those of you who understand Dutch and plan to take photographs on the streets it’s a must have.

Reply
Jerry Bei April 8, 2014 at 10:23 am

Hi Bellamy, Thanks for the information in relation to Street Photographer’s Rights you have gathered.
As a Passionate Street Photographer and an Australian Lawyer myself, I thought it would be important to let Photographers around the world to become aware of their Photography Legal Rights. Therefore, I have wrote and complied information from various countries around the World on the topic “Photographer’s Rights – (For your Country)” and would love to share with you guys as well:

http://jerrybei.com/photographers-rights/

N.B. It is still work in progress and more information will be updated regularly.

Reply
Michael April 9, 2014 at 2:37 am

Hi,
I was wondering if anyone knows something about restrictions in Saudi Arabia, Riyadh specifically. Any help is appreciated.

Reply

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