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A Summary of Your Rights as a Photographer

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Inspired by a video that I saw the other day, I thought it was about time that I helped you to understand your rights when it comes to photography.
You probably aren’t aware of your rights as a photographer. But it’s becoming more and more important every day to know what you can and can’t do.
Disclaimer: I am British and these rights are accurate as far as UK law is concerned. If you are American, there may be some discrepancies. 

Your Rights

If you’re on public property, you can take photos of whatever you like. Whether it’s property or people, you don’t need anyone’s permission. Some people are going to tell you that you can’t take photos of private property, such as bank buildings and people’s houses. So long as you are on public property, you can.
This means that you can take photos in public libraries, museums, government buildings, from the street and anywhere else public. The only case where you can’t take pictures is if there’s a specific law that prevents such shooting.
Man sitting on a beach with a beer
You’re also allowed to take photos in private property that is open to public, such as shopping centers, malls, pubs, restaurants, etc. You will, however, have to stop if the owner/management ask you to. Sounds fair enough to me.
You don’t need a person’s consent to take their photo if they are in a public place. They do, however, have a reasonable right to privacy, so you can’t be intrusive if they’re in a private place, such as their own home.
This means that, if they’re walking down the street, you can take their photo. But you can’t peer through their living room window and start snapping.
The word “terrorism” is one that comes up far too often with photography in a public place, such as in the video below.
The truth is that it’s just used as a scare tactic to stop people from using their camera. Photography in a public place is not terrorist activity; the words should never be used for the sake of ‘security’, if you’re not breaking any laws.

No one can make you stop filming them if you’re in a public place: it’s your right to do so.
I’ve seen videos time and time again of people shouting, “you don’t have permission to film me, you need my permission” but the truth is that they’re uninformed on the subject. You can carry on as you like so long as you’re in a public place.
Video example below contains adult language.

Nobody can make you delete the photos you’ve already taken, even if you took them on private property without permission. Even a police officer would require a court order to take the camera off you if they’re not making an arrest.
A common situation where I’ve seen the above happen is at concert.
The venue can tell you that you don’t have permission to take photos. You should follow that rule as you’re on private property but they can’t then break further laws as a result. I’ve seen members of security delete photos and even take the camera away from the audience members.
That is technically theft and destruction of personal property: not just a legal case but a civil one too.
You don’t have to provide your ID to anyone (including security) unless they’re police officers in states/countries where the law dictates that you must.

Tips for getting out of a sticky situation

It’s your right to ask why they’re stopping you and you should take full advantage of this. Ask as many questions as you can to clarify your rights.
For example, ask why they’re stopping you and if you can leave. Chances are, if you are allowed to leave, the problem is solved.
If not, ask for the name of the person stopping you, whether it’s security or police (ignore all members of the public who try to do this), who their employer is and what legal purpose they have to stop you and/or confiscate your equipment.
If that’s still not working, ask them to quote the exact laws that allow them to do what they’re doing.
Chances are they can’t, as you’ll see in this article.
Threats of public order, rights to privacy and terrorism are usually unfounded – the best way to get to the bottom of the threats is to ask lots of questions, which most people seem not to be able to answer.
Cabin and mountains in Slovenia
I know this article probably seems a little bit anti-police but I don’t mean it in that way at all.
There are plenty of police officers who know your rights but a select few don’t. I’m not suggesting that you go up and start taking photos of police officers just because you can; they have a job to do too.
When, and only when, you have a reason for taking these photos, you shouldn’t be afraid or deterred from doing so.

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15 comments
  1. In the case of urban exploration, we often break in and some places aren not fully abandoned (the power plants for instance). What if we are caught by “someone” or the owner, and asked to remove the photos? Are we allowed to say “no”?

    1. Absolutely you are, it’s a destruction of your property, and if they want to take matters further then they have to use a court order. At least that’s how it is in the UK, it may be different in Japan.

  2. Pretty simple. Okay, imagine that I saw a funny looking person on the street (public place), snapped his photograph and have it published in a popular magazine. Sometime down the road the person saw the picture that I took of him in the magazine and he was very displeased. Can he sue me?

    1. No he can’t, if it’s published by a magazine then it’s their responsibility. The term ‘editorial usage’ gets taken advantage of because it allows you to use the photos without a release, so there’s a few grey areas over what editorial usage actually is. I would say that this is probably one of these grey areas.

  3. This was an awesome article. I cannot confirm but I think as per the US Law, you can take pictures or videos of people or private property while being on the public space but you cannot record their voices or sounds.
    In any case, this was an enlightening article for a beginner like me.

  4. very informative article. but if a security person asked me to stop taking photos of a bank because it undermines their security, is should stop because they have rights too. but it will be different if they asked me to erase what i have already taken photos of or if they do not allow me to leave or something…. maybe we should be sensitive to security also, i think…

    1. You might want to use your discretion if you’re not really getting the photos you want, but you should never just stop because they’re asking you to. Their rights are not to stop you from doing what you want to do, and they should know better.

  5. This is a great article. Being a restaurant owner that has just had a promotional video and photography shot, this very subject came up by both the photographer and film crew. Are there any other official resources to refer to. I always thought your comments were the case but these guys suggested that I need permission of anyone that was captured because i would be using the images for commercial purposes. I said that we are public place and if they was the case how is that a magazine can take celebrity photos, publish them in a magazine and sell it on a newstand? They had no answer. Where does the law draw the line at preventing you from taking a image with someone in it to promote a product or venue. E.g. If a celebrity dines in our restaurant and we take a photo and publish it is that okay?

  6. This a very useful and informative article. My question to is whether this is still current now (2019 +)?
    I understand that a Police Commissioner of the London Met had written to all police forces in the country telling them all the things you’ve passed on to us. BUT that doesn’t make it law! Unless it is already covered in a law (like the law that tells cyclists they MUST NOT ride on pavements)
    Thanks again.

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