Thursday, August 9, 2012

Street photography laws and etiquette, pt2


In the previous post, Street photography laws and etiquette, pt1, we discussed the legal rights of a photographer to take pictures. The use of those pictures are a totally different story and much more limiting and this is where I think Erin got confused. You can not sell or use commercially (i.e. for profit) an image without the written consent of the person photographed.

You can display your photos on your social network, in your portfolio of work, as a wallpaper on your computer, hang it on your wall and use it in an editorial manner. That means I have full rights to post Erin's photo on this blog, in context to the event, without her permission. However, had I used Erin's photo to publicly humiliate or harass her, I would open myself up to a civil suit.

While it is illegal to sell or use commercially a photo of someone without written consent, you should be happy to learn that it is not a criminal act. You can not be arrested for it. However, you do open yourself up to a costly civil lawsuit which you have small chance of winning.

Obviously encounters don't always go as expected, as described in the previous post. Keeping your cool and not letting a situation explode out of control goes a long way. So how can you diffuse a situation that has started to escalate? Try the following tactics but remember to maintain composure at all times;
  • Walk away - Ignore the person and walk away from the situation. Rather than confronting them and getting into an argument, or worse, simply walk away. They are insignificant and not worth the effort in trying to educate them. You can easily find yourself a new location or let some time elapse before returning.
  • Offer an apology - Sometimes an apology is all it takes to throw someone off balance and reverse a touchy situation. It is not a matter of who's wrong or who's right that counts. It's about walking away without confrontation. Say you're sorry for interfering and that it won't happen again and walk away.
  • Offer an excuse - If the apology doesn't work offer an excuse. One of the best excuses is the, "I'm a photography student and I'm out here practicing" excuse. Another one that I've used is the, "I'm just taking pictures for my private portfolio." Both these excuses imply why the pictures are being taken and that they will be used in an innocuous manner in one short statement.
  • Offer them a look at the image - Sometimes it can be a simple matter of satisfying curiosity. People obviously want to know why you are taking pictures of them. Offer them a peek at the image to satisfy that need and to 'prove' that you're not up to something sinister. I have struck up some interesting conversations with this tactic.
  • Offer them compensation - If nothing has worked and they still don't back down offer them compensation in the form of a print. It can be a digital photo by email or a print by snail mail. Don't offer them money. You gain nothing by submitting to their intimidation.
Sometimes the person confronting you feels they have a certain amount of authority or power over you. Many times the authority figure is not fully aware of the regulations. Do not be confrontational in this situation. Retain your composure and keep your voice at a conversational level. You will get better results if you appear cooperative while standing your ground. Here are some things that they can not do to you or your equipment. Remember, taking pictures is not a crime.

  • Confiscation of equipment - Unless you are being arrested for some crime, no one has the right to confiscate your camera, memory cards or other personal equipment. This includes state and municipal police, security guards, property owners, managers or other 'authority' figures. Likewise, the information contained on memory cards can not be accessed without permission, suspicion of a crime or a search warrant. Confiscation of any equipment against your will is considered theft and is punishable by law.
  • Detain or restrict you from leaving - Again, unless you are being arrested by police for a crime, no one has the right to detain you or restrict you from leaving. Often an authority figure (usually a security guard or manager) will use the excuse of calling the cops to coerce you to stay. Be polite and walk away. Unlawful detention is considered abduction and is punishable by law.
  • Physical harm or intimidation - When someone has it in their head that they are right and you are not, they can become rather belligerent, specially if they are not getting the results they are after. Some may default to intimidation and harassment but others may sink to physical action. Any physical action against you is illegal, no excuse. While this may not stop someone from trying it does give you recourse in a court of law. The best defense is to walk away before it gets to this point but if worse comes to worse, you have the right to protect yourself and your property.
Some of these examples are worst-case scenarios and, with a couple of exceptions, you may never find yourself in such a situation. Knowing what the rules are and what your rights are go a long way in not only protecting yourself, but also in legal recourse should something happen.

Internet Resources

  • Bert P. Krages, attorney at law - This much quoted, highly publicized downloadable flyer is a well written and concise explanation of the photographer's rights to take pictures. I think this page has gotten more hits than any other on line resource.
  • ACLU - Know your rights: Photographers - A list of rights with an emphasis on being confronted by police. There are several links to videos and other articles on illegal use of power by the police.
  • Photographer's Rights from PetaPixel - This is a set of plastic cards with the photographer's rights nicely printed on them. The cards also double as white balance cards. If you don't want to buy the cards you can just download the list of rules.
There are countless sites touting the "photographer's rights" phrase in their title but most of them are reiterations of  what is on Mr. Krages' site. You can also do a search on YouTube for the same title and you'll get hundreds of hits of videos portraying police in varying situations. Hopefully the information in these two articles help you understand what your 'rights' are and how being responsible can keep you out of trouble.


Disclaimer: The information contained in this post is considered to be of a general nature based on journalistic research and should not be construed to be legal advice. To fully understand your rights as a photographer you should seek legal counsel from a qualified attorney.

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