I'm in the US - can anyone stop me from photographing?
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”.
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.
This sounds like legal advice.
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.
Gordon Moat Photography
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.
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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.
Originally Posted by Steve Smith
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.
Anáil nathrach, ortha bháis is beatha, do chéal déanaimh.
Originally Posted by Andy K
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.
This site has a handy downloadable sheet which outlines your legal rights when photographing.
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
Sorry about the bottle thing John, I didn't know that was you...