Photographer’s Rights & Ethical Guidelines

Photographer’s Rights

General guidelines (not to be considered legal advice)

1. You can make a photograph of anything and anyone on any public property, except where a specific law prohibits it. i.e. streets, sidewalks, town squares, parks, government buildings open to the public, and public libraries.

2. You may shoot on private property if it is open to the public, but you are obligated to stop if the owner requests it. i.e. malls, retail stores, restaurants, banks, and office building lobbies.

3. Private property owners can prevent photography ON their property, but not photography OF their property from a public location.

4. Anyone can be photographed without consent when they are in a public place unless there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. i.e. private homes, restrooms, dressing rooms, medical facilities, and phone booths.

5. Despite common misconceptions, the following subjects are almost always permissible:
* accidents, fire scenes, criminal activities
* children, celebrities, law enforcement officers
* bridges, infrastructure, transportation facilities
* residential, commercial, and industrial buildings

6. Security is rarely an acceptable reason for restricting photography. Photographing from a public place cannot infringe on trade secrets, nor is it terrorist activity.

7. Private parties cannot detain you against your will unless a serious crime was committed in their presence. Those that do so may be subject to criminal and civil charges.

8. It is a crime for someone to threaten injury, detention, confiscation, or arrest because you are making photographs.

9. You are not obligated to provide your identity or reason for photographing unless questioned by a law enforcement officer and state law requires it.

10. Private parties have no right to confiscate your equipment without a court order. Even law enforcement officers must obtain one unless making an arrest. No one can force you to delete photos you have made.

These are general guidelines regarding the right to make photos and should not be interpreted as legal advice. If you need legal help, please contact a lawyer.

When confronted, threatened with detention or the confiscation of equipment, ask the following questions:

* What is your name?
* What is the name of your employer?
* May I leave? If not, what is the legal basis of my detention?
* If equipment is being demanded, what is the legal basis for the confiscation?

A few additional things to consider from John Smock.

Police often assume they have absolute authority to prevent pictures from being taken at any time (NYC law is intentionally vague in the subways system to give NYPD greater discretion). While they do not have absolute authority, it’s not a fight students are going to win through a showdown with a beat cop. Find a sergeant. Journalists should have the phone number for NYCDP DCPI with them.

You can shoot in the public part of a private business (the public area in a Starbuck’s or Modell’s) until you are asked to stop. You cannot photograph behind the counter or in the storage area.

Photographing children (more the the point, publishing photographs of children) without parental consent is legally problematic. School are often restricted in the same way hospitals are.

Taking images for publication as news is distinguished from taking pix for commercial purposes. If I photograph someone in a public (or private) place for news purposes, no prob. But, if I want to sell that same photo to an advertiser or for commercial purposes I need written permission for the person photographed and if it’s a private place from owner/manager.

Ethical Guidelines

The National Press Photographers Association Code of Ethics

Visual journalists and those who manage visual news productions are accountable for upholding the following standards in their daily work:

  1. Be accurate and comprehensive in the representation of subjects.
  2. Resist being manipulated by staged photo opportunities.
  3. Be complete and provide context when photographing or recording subjects. Avoid stereotyping individuals and groups. Recognize and work to avoid presenting one’s own biases in the work.
  4. Treat all subjects with respect and dignity. Give special consideration to vulnerable subjects and compassion to victims of crime or tragedy. Intrude on private moments of grief only when the public has an overriding and justifiable need to see.
  5. While photographing subjects do not intentionally contribute to, alter, or seek to alter or influence events.
  6. Editing should maintain the integrity of the photographic images’ content and context. Do not manipulate images or add or alter sound in any way that can mislead viewers or misrepresent subjects.
  7. Do not pay sources or subjects or reward them materially for information or participation.
  8. Do not accept gifts, favors, or compensation from those who might seek to influence coverage.
  9. Do not intentionally sabotage the efforts of other journalists.