What are your legal rights as a Photographer

As a photographer it is important to know your rights, when taking photos in a public space. The laws discussed in this article apply to North America, although many western nations have similar laws if you live an another country it would be in your best interest to look into them for yourself.

Photography Laws

  • Use your common sense, it is legal to photograph women and children in a public place, but you might think twice about following them around taking photos, if  you do not have their permission then you may be asking for trouble.
  • You can take a photo of anyone or anything in a public place. Public places include, parks, sidewalks, public squares, beaches and government buildings that are open to the public like libraries. Despite common misconceptions if you are in a public place you can photograph:
    • Children
    • Car accident
    • Fire
    • Bridges and other infrastructure
    • Private buildings and residents
    • Criminal activity
    • Police officers
    • Celebrities
    • Bigfoot
  • Places like malls can be a grey area, although they are private property, you can take photos because it is open to the public, unless there are posted signs. Security can not stop you from taking photos but they can ask you to leave, if you refuse you could face trespassing charges.
  • If you can see it you can photograph it from public property, this means you can photograph private property if you like.
  • You are not allowed to photograph some government buildings like military bases (area 51) because of national security.
  • Although you can photograph anyone in public, there are some areas that you can not due to privacy. Such as Bathrooms, locker rooms, people’s ATM number…
  • You are most likely to be approached by security guards to ask you to stop taking photos, know your rights and stand your ground. Often if you refuse they will leave you alone.
  • You do not have to disclose why you are photographing something, or your name, you have the right to remain silent. If you do decide to talk do not lie, especially to the police.
  • You do not have to show anyone what you are photographing.
  • No one has the right to confiscate your camera, without a court order or ask you to delete a photo (that would be destroying evidence).
  • If you are taking photos for a commercial purpose you may need to get permits, depending on where you are taking photos. If you are taking photos for an advertisement you should get the written permission of the people you are photographing, but if you are taking a photo to be used on a blog or newspaper you should be ok.

What should you do if you are confronted?

  • Know your rights.
  • Keep calm and respectful.
  • Do not be afraid to ask to talk to a security guard superior.
  • If you feel threatened, call the police.
  • They do not have the right to see your photos, but if they think you are doing something nefarious you might be able to calm them down by showing them the photos you have taken.
  • Write down what happened, names, badge numbers, locations, times, and photos or video of the situation.
  • If  need be contact a lawyer.
  • Share your story with the world, your local media, Reddit, Pixiq (they write about this often), or your own social network.

If you are being photographed in public and you do not wish to be:

  • Politely ask the photographer to stop (you will hopefully get a better response with a polite conversation than yelling at them)
  • If they refuse than leave or move away from where you are being photographed

This is for informational purposes only and not to be taken as legal advice, please seek the advice of a licensed attorney.

Information from: Photojojo, Wikipeida and Pixiq.

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18 Responses to “What are your legal rights as a Photographer”

  1. John Samuel July 20, 2011 at 2:29 pm #

    Acciendence?

    • Editor July 20, 2011 at 2:40 pm #

      Sorry about that, I have fixed that up now

  2. Mattia July 20, 2011 at 3:57 pm #

    Nice post :)

  3. Roman July 20, 2011 at 8:22 pm #

    What country is this valid for? I assume the US?

    • Editor July 21, 2011 at 9:31 am #

      North America, but these laws seems to be quite similar in many countries, I did not come across any western country that had a law against people photographing people in public for non commercial reasons.

      • Roman July 21, 2011 at 10:41 am #

        “I did not come across any western country that did not have a law against people photographing people in public for non commercial reasons”
        Are you sure about that? Photographing people in public for non-commercial reasons seems pretty common.

        • Editor July 21, 2011 at 11:05 am #

          My mistake, looks like I just said the exact opposite of what I meant to say. There is no western country that I came across (there may be some but I didn’t find any) that prohibits people from taking photos in public for non-commercial reasons.

          • Roman July 21, 2011 at 11:14 am #

            I see. Now it makes sense. :-)

        • Follower July 23, 2011 at 7:25 am #

          You misquoted what was said, Roman. You added in the “NOT have a law”, the previous post was stated correctly.

          • Roman July 23, 2011 at 8:52 am #

            Actually, the post was corrected after I pointed out the mistake.

  4. John F. Braun July 20, 2011 at 9:59 pm #

    Good general guide, but at this point, it is illegal to photograph police in several states (don’t have details right now) in the US, because this is considered a violation of all party consent wiretap (believe it or not) laws.

    • Editor July 21, 2011 at 9:28 am #

      Some police department do appear to be trying to push this though, in particular police in California. From what I have read, the audio recording of police (video cameras included) is what law enforcement if fighting against.

  5. Anon July 21, 2011 at 9:22 pm #

    if you do not have their permission than you may be asking for trouble.

    if you do not have their permission THEN you may be asking for trouble.

  6. liz baker August 17, 2012 at 11:57 am #

    i love how bigfoot is on the list of things you can photograph haha.

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