Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Photography in Public: Know Your Rights, These Are Your Rights

Especially after the events of 9/11, the Internet abounds with stories about people taking photographs on public property being harassed. Overzealous security guards and policemen have been known to invoke the law inaccurately, sometimes aggressively, in the attempt to dissuade photographers who are legally within their rights.  There are even Flickr groups devoted to this topic, such as the National Photographers' Rights Organization group and the Photography is not a crime group.

Some helpful introductory resources exist for those who are uncertain about where "public" ends and "private" begins.  Bert Krages is an attorney who is a nationally recognized advocate for the right to take photographs in public places.  He has published on his Web site "The Photographer’s Right: A Downloadable Flyer Explaining Your Rights When Stopped or Confronted for Photography."  This one-page guide introduces a basic principle: "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." Krages goes on to cite important exceptions to the general rule; permissible subjects; the rights of others to question you, detain you, or confiscate your property; some legal and other remedies in case you are harassed; and how to handle confrontations.  He suggests that photographers may wish to print out and keep a copy in their camera bag.  For those wishing to delve deeper into the subject, Krages has written a book: Legal Handbook for Photographers: The Rights and Liabilities of Making Images.

Image: Thomas Hawk, Long Beach Harbor Patrol Say No Photography From a Public Sidewalk, 2008.  Available from Flickr via a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic License.

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