I'm in the US - can anyone stop me from photographing?

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous Equipment' started by copake_ham, Feb 5, 2008.

  1. copake_ham

    copake_ham Inactive

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    Interesting question?

    Maybe so, or maybe not. We see lots of threads here posted by folks who allegedly were stopped either by public police personnel or private security employees (i.e. rent-a-cops) while shooting photographs.

    Almost invariably the poster is the "aggrieved" shooter.

    But in reality, in the United States, what is current law in this regard? I've offered some immediate thoughts below. I'd welcome some corrections/additions etc. from qualified folk here who can legitimately advance general understanding of what our "rights" are and, equally importantly, what they aren't.

    So here are some preliminary thoughts:

    In America, can I take a photo anywhere I want?

    Simple answer – NO.

    But that leaves open the much larger question. When can you take a photo without question and when can you take one with permission?

    Here are some preliminary comments on the matter. Perhaps others, with expertise in the field of privacy rights (particularly as it relates to photographing at will), would add, correct etc. their thoughts

    A) The first step is to determine whether you are on public or private property.

    (i) Generally, if you are on public property, and unless posted otherwise (e.g. at a military or similar type of national security installation) you can take photos at any time and in any quantity.
    (ii) If, on the other hand, you are on private property (of any kind including museums, shopping malls, private university campuses, sports stadia etc.) you have little, if any right to freely shoot photos.


    B) If I am on public property – what are my rights if confronted by a member of law enforcement?
    (i) Your strongest right is the freedom to silently walk away. Very few Americans realize that it is a basic civil right of anyone confronted by a law enforcement officer to just silently walk away from that person. If you are not doing anything illegal then no one has the right to stop you and demand to know what your are doing.
    (ii) The key here is “silence”. It’s very hard to do when a police officer is asking you: “What are you doing here?” But the proper response is to first walk away – and if you are pursued – say no more than that you are leaving the place you are at. If further queried, go no further than to calmly say something to the effect: “I am leaving this place, are you detaining me?”
    (iii) This last comment, if necessary, should be said very calmly and as innocently as you are in the situation. It totally changes the relationship between you and the officer because if puts her/him on notice that any attempt to now detain you will have to be justified at the risk of unlawful detainment and/or arrest.

    C) If I am on private property – what are my rights if confronted by a member of law enforcement?
    (i) Obviously, much less than if you are on public property. Being allowed onto someone’s private property (e.g. a mall or arena or private college campus) is a license to visit – it is not a right to be there – and so, yes, you can be evicted.
    (ii) That said, you are not totally at some security guard’s whim. You are firstly protected by the “rights” afforded to you by the license to be where you are at. So, for example, if you are a student on a campus – you have a basic license right to be there – and thus you have recourse if someone denies your access without due process.
    (iii) Nonetheless, unlike the “public” situation above – you DO have to answer any queries regarding who you are and why you are in a particular location. Unlike the public place situation, you cannot simply walk away and stay within your “rights”.
     
  2. patrickjames

    patrickjames Member

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    George I like the walking away idea! Several years ago I did just this when confronted by a cop on a beach photographing lifeguard towers near a military installation (all you could see of the installation were bushes!). He threatened to confiscate my camera and I just looked at him and said "whatever" and walked away. He said something else to me too as I walked away and I just repeated myself without looking back and kept walking. He left me alone after that.

    Patrick
     
  3. david b

    david b Member

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    This sounds like legal advice.
     
  4. HerrBremerhaven

    HerrBremerhaven Member

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    Use good judgment. Be polite when possible. Know when to be more firm about your rights.

    Do not give away your film. In the US, this would allow a law enforcement officer to commit coercion; compelling you (by threat, real or implied) to give up your film or camera. If a law enforcement official does this by force, then they have broken the law.

    As a professional, or when shooting with a crew, it can be a good idea in many cities to have a permit. At the very least, also try to inform any property manager or property owner of your shoot. It can be a very good idea to have a business card to give to any law enforcement people.

    Ciao!

    Gordon Moat Photography
     
  5. Steve Smith

    Steve Smith Subscriber

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    It is an excellent idea to have all the facts in one place for easy reference.

    For UK members, this is available: http://www.sirimo.co.uk/media/UKPhotographersRights.pdf

    'The guide was written by Linda Macpherson LL.B, Dip.L.P., LL.M, who is a lecturer in law at Heriot Watt University, with particular experience in Information Technology Law, Intellectual Property Law and Media Law'.

    A similar, printable, easy reference sheet would be useful for all photographers if available in their respective countries.


    Steve.
     
  6. Andy K

    Andy K Member

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    I have this printed out and keep it in my wallet. It comes in useful when confronted with hobby bobbies who don't accept a simple explanation.

    When photographing at night I usually call the local police station, give them my name and address, and tell them I will be in such and such an area, wearing a hi-viz coat and using a camera on a tripod. It saves them time if they get calls from local residents. Sometimes they'll drive past, I just give them a wave. Also the hi-viz usually assures people you are not up to anything suspicious because you are so conspicuous.
     
  7. Steve Smith

    Steve Smith Subscriber

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    I read an article (I don't remember where) about a street photographer who always wore a high visibility jacket in order to 'make himself invisible'. The theory being that the general public are used to seeing roadworkers, surveyors, telephone engineers, etc. in public wearing high visibility clothing, assume they are there in an official capacity and ignore them.


    Steve.
     
  8. Mark_S

    Mark_S Subscriber

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  9. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser

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    i tend to make myself as visible as possible.
    never have problems, and i call the cops
    so they can keep an eye on ME.
    i've had beer bottles thrown at me while photographing ..
    its not the police that i worry about, it is the "other" folks
    who thing it is their civic duty to hassle people who are doing
    no wrong.
     
  10. JBrunner

    JBrunner Moderator Staff Member

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    Sorry about the bottle thing John, I didn't know that was you...
     
  11. PhotoJim

    PhotoJim Member

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    Hmm - good idea?

    A film SLR that has a compact flash slot so that if someone asks for your "film", you can give the person your memory card.

    Film camera shooters are so rare now that that might just work to shut the person up. :smile:
     
  12. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council

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    About the time you try that, the cop who asks you for it will actually own one of whatever and call your bluff.
     
  13. pauliej

    pauliej Member

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    Carrying a business card that names you as a professional photographer may help with the law or rentable-cops, maybe not. For us non-pros, we can still print up a similar card, saying we are non-pros (if we want to). Alerting the police AHEAD of time sounds like an extremely good idea - better for you to call them than someone who thinks you are a bad guy, or a nut, or worse. The high visibility outerwear also sounds great, but dont forget the headgear. If you have a lawyer, you may want to ask them what your legal rights are, in your area, as well.

    Remember, on the street, your rights are whatever the coppers say they are. Yes, I watch too much Law & Order on the tube.

    Paul
     
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  15. JBrunner

    JBrunner Moderator Staff Member

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    Best not to argue with cops, especially the short ones. Argue with a complaint, filed after the fact. That can, and sometimes does get the point across. Captains hate complaints- especially legitimate ones. If enough people complained properly, this stuff would ease up.
     
  16. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council

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    If you see the police/security people coming your way, greet them in a friendly manner - it automatically disarms them because they realize anyone willing to acknowledge them and talk to them (and be identified by them) is probably not doing anything nefarious. It also takes away their "element of surprise", and puts them on the defensive, turning them from dominant aggressors into passive responders.

    As to the "call the cops ahead of time" thing: while I understand the benefit, THAT smacks of police state even more than the getting harassed by idiots when out shooting. I'm not doing anything illegal or illegitimate - why should I have to check in with big brother to tell them what I'm doing and why? If I were going to do something dangerous or stupid (but not illegal) I could understand giving someone a heads up (ie going to photograph by myself in an abandoned building), so that if I didn't check in at a certain time, they could dispatch emergency personnel to retrieve me.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 5, 2008
  17. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser

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    no worries jason :smile:
     
  18. Dan Fromm

    Dan Fromm Member

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    Interesting advice. I mustered out of the Army in December, 1970. What magic ID am I to use?
     
  19. Nigel

    Nigel Member

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    Probably the most sage advice in this thread. Don't argue with the cop. Just get a badge number. Get a receipt for any confiscated property. Take factual notes as the event happens or shortly afterwards. The only question worth asking is "am I under arrest?" See a lawyer after the fact.

    Don't walk or run away, else you may see yourself charged for resisting arrest, Tasered, or shot.
     
  20. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser

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    this is a long way OT, but ...

    this reminds me of when i was driving in harvard square near boston
    and people walked out infront of my car. i was at a green light, they,
    being agressive-foot people just stepped off the curb as the do not walk sign
    shone infront of them.
    i braked hard, and a cop then gave me a citation for driving wrecklessly.
    i took his badge, and name and the ticket, and appeared for a hearing
    since i refused to pay a fine for doing nothing ( other than breaking a j-walker )
    anyhow, the police's lawyer and another officer were there at the hearing
    and i told my side of the story ... i told them the name of the policeman
    who gave me the ticket, and then they shook their heads ...
    he was known for giving people a hard time i am guessing.
    charges were dismissed ...

    so yes, take badge and name and then go to a hearing.
    more than likely, the arresting officer will not be there, and
    you won't be intimidated when you state the facts from your
    side of the story ...
    go with a friend, maybe the person you were shooting with ?
    it doesn't matter ...
    police departments don't want to deal with hearings, and
    they don't like police officers who hand out tickets for no reason at all
    it costs them in the end ...
     
  21. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council

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    This seems to work only for active duty folks. There are a lot of cops who are also in the National Guard or otherwise affiliated with the armed forces and so they give a wider berth to fellow soldiers. If you got out of the services in 1970, I don't think they're going to care one iota. Unless they too served in Vietnam.
     
  22. BobbyR

    BobbyR Restricted Access

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    If some how you end up by your vehicle when being questioned, do not open your glove box or trunk, unless they have a search warrant.

    Refusing to do so does not automatically make the officer angry, they often ask , because most people do not know that they do not have to open them without a warrant, and will simply do so.
     
  23. juan

    juan Subscriber

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    I still have my dog tags, don't you?

    The general rule is not public or private property, but whether you have a right to be where you are. It's a part of trespass law. If you are where you have a legal right to be, you can take a photograph of whatever you can see.

    This is for editorial, not commercial use - commercial use being advertising. That raises other concerns.

    17 US Code is the copyright act and it provides that finished buildings are not copyrightable, so you can take photos of finished buildings, despite what some security guard may tell you. I keep a copy of that section in my camera bag. I would infer that the sections means that unfinished buildings are subject to copyright and may be protected.

    Then there is the emotional level of the police. Last year I was threatened with arrest after a car ran off the road, ran across my front yard, and slammed into a neighbor's car. After the police finished looking over the scene and had gathered around their cars to smoke, I got out my camera and started taking pictures for my insurance company and my neighbor's insurance company. I was in my yard taking photos of damage done to my yards. The cops had a fit. They tried to order me off my own property, to which I responded "It's my yard." They sputtered and fumed, and while they did, I walked inside. Then I photographed them goofing off from inside my house.

    When dealing with cops, remember they have the guns.
    juan
     
  24. BrianShaw

    BrianShaw Member

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    Yup, about as useless as arguing with an overweight lawyer. Attitude, pure attitude... and a very frustrating and unproductive discsussion.
     
  25. tim_walls

    tim_walls Member

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    In general not yet they haven't, thank God... :wink:
     
  26. lns

    lns Member

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    Well, at least in the U.S., property owners have the right to make rules for the use of their real property. With respect, it isn't a matter of trespass. In simplified form, trespass is entry onto real property without right or invitation. But even if you are invited onto someone's property, you do so under license of the owner, who sets the rules for such use. For example, we've all been in places that announce that "bathrooms are for customers only." Likewise, private property owners have the right to bar photographs on their premises. (So in fact do public property owners. Think of the U.S. Army, or the Supreme Court.) This may seem unfair to you as a photographer, but if you look at it from the perspective of the property owner, you can perhaps sympathize a little. For example, imagine you run a museum with art that is damaged by flash pictures. -Laura