In this article, I am going to discuss when you’re allowed to take a photo in public places, what you’re allowed to use them for, if you need consent, if you are allowed to make money from, and what’s their commercial use.
This is a question I get asked all the time, and I think it’s great because you want to make sure you’re on the right side of the law on this kind of thing and understand your rights. Two things to point out from the outset.
- Laws vary from country to country.
- You must understand the local regulations and always be on the side of the law.
Talking about Australia, America, Hong Kong, the UK, and a few other countries, if you’re in a public place, and that person is visible to you even if they are on their own private property or in their friend’s garden, inside a shop or the house, then you have the right to take their photograph. Additionally, in Australia they do not have the right to demand you to delete the image and the police cannot compel you to remove the image as that’s considered destruction of property in some form of assault.
Another important thing to note is that just because you’re free to enter somewhere, it doesn’t mean it’s a public space; shopping malls and even some markets are actually private spaces. The lobby of big buildings is also a private space. Somebody owns that and they do have the right to limit photo-taking. It also applies to private spaces in terms of property rights. To photo in restaurants, in concert halls, art galleries, etc. is most of the times forbidden.
If somebody in Australia at least, reasonably has the expectation of privacy, then they should have it. We don’t have a right to privacy and we don’t have special privacy rules for kids. So the same rules apply to children, except for in some situations where the image may be overly sexual.
Generally speaking, If you are for example on the beach sunbathing topless, someone can take your photograph and they can sell it. They do not need your consent, but there is the condition in Australia to reasonably respect privacy. So if you’re in a public place like a changing room at the beach, people still could just take you some photograph, though it would be expected some privacy.
Now, let’s clarify what the notion “commercial purposes” means. It may sound commercial purposes if I take you a picture on the street, make it large, and sell it for a thousand dollars a print. Sounds pretty commercial but that’s not what commercial purposes means. You are absolutely within your rights to do what I’ve just said. The term “commercial purposes” means to use the image to endorse a product or company or service or something like that.
The use of an image for commercial reasons without permission is called misappropriation of likeness, and it also applies to the voice or to any other easily identifiable features of a person.
Of course, there are some exceptions. Sometimes you can’t photograph some military or government buildings, you can’t photograph people who are in a witness protection program or something similar.
So, when you plan to visit a country and photograph, keep that in mind to print out a list of rights and keep it in your bag in case it comes to a little altercation. People generally don’t know the rules, rights, and obligations, nor do the security guards sometimes.
In Australia for example, at least in New South Wales, you are allowed to photograph in public spaces such as trains and stations. However, if you plan using a tripod or cables then they can assume it’s for professional and commercial use, so you are required a permit issued by a governmental authority prior to photographing.
In Germany, you can take a photo of a person in a public place, but if there’s three or more it’s considered a group and then it’s not okay. For example, if you go with a group of friends for a match, taking a photo in the stadium is not a good idea.
In conclusion, when you go abroad and plan to photograph for either personal and commercial purposes, always ensure that you fully comply with the local regulations to avoid cumbersome and possibly dangerous situations. Nobody wants a punch on the head of their camera smashed.