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The intersection of photography and law is a complex place. What are your rights as a photographer? Where and what are you permitted—and not permitted—to photograph? What should you do when you're told to leave an area or delete photos you've already shot?
Photographer Ben Long and attorney Carolyn Wright discuss legal considerations ranging from where you can and can't take pictures to getting signed releases for people and property. Plus, learn about respecting trademarks when shooting commercial work, and your rights as a photographer when dealing with security and law-enforcement personnel.
Ben Long: So, I'm in a place that I know I have a legal right to shoot in. There are people around. I'm taking pictures of them. How do I know when I need a model release? Caroline Wright: Well, when you are taking a photograph, you have to consider whether the person has an expectation of privacy. So, if, for example, a man is sleeping on a public bench, he's visible to everybody around. You can take the man's photograph. Now, how you are going to use that photograph determines whether you're gonna need a model release. If you use that photograph for a newspapaer article about it's a beautiful sunny day and people are out enjoying the park, then you don't need a model release because that is in editorial use.
If, however, you're gonna take that same photograph and use it for an advertisement to sell park benches, then you definitely need a model release. Ben Long: Okay. So, let's say I'm somewhere and I am getting hassled by a cop or a guard or something like that and I know that I'm well within my rights, but what kind of authority do I carry? I could say, "No, I have a legal right to do this." Is there some language I can use? Do I say some Latin phrase or cite a law or something? Is there some of resource I can have at my disposal to get this guy off my back? Caroline Wright: Well, yes, absolutely. One, you could ask to speak to the person's manager or someone else higher in command, And hope that they know more.
And hope they do, especially if its a police officer. The police officer might be a novice. But, there's great resources that you can get. The ACLU has a pamphlet that talks about photographer's rights, and now this would be valid only for the United States. I know there is one for Australia as well, so you might want to check with your ACLU or similar type organization at different countries, but they have a brochure that they publish that says when a photographer can take pictures. And so it might be a great resource if you just kept that in your camera bag, and then you could show the person, whoever is hassling you, well, the ACLU says this is true, this is what I get to do.
There's an attorney. His name is Burt Krages. Burt is a great attorney talking about photographer's rights, and he has a 1-page sheet that will help you as a photographer and, hopefully, maybe somebody who is hassling you, to understand what rights you have to shoot and whether somebody can delete your photos and that sort of thing. And then there's one other great resource that I know about. If you're going to be photographing on federal lands, there's actually public laws that talk about when somebody can photograph on property and when a permit is needed, so carrying a copy of that public law or statue with you also is a good resource.
Ben Long: These are short enough things that I could just keep them in my bag and have them at my disposal? Caroline Wright: Yes. Ben Long: So then I guess it's back to just the common sense question of, "Is this worth fighting for?" or is it wise to go to the biker gang that is hassling you and say, "Well, it's here. Let's talk photo law." (laughing) CarolineA funny story was that there was a photographer who was actually arrested for photographing in the New York Subway System. The funny thing is that he was taking pictures to enter into Amtrak's photo contest, so Amtrak was encouraging people to take pictures of their train yet the security guard said, "No, you can't and you're going to jail." (laughing) Ben Long: So, someone didn't get the memo and he ends up, yeah...
Caroline Wright: He didn't, but he did get out of jail with a "get out of jail free card."
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