Photographers Rights: Harassment & Other Laws
Harassment: Can you be arrested for it?
Harassment will occur when a person ought to know that his conduct amounted to harassment if a reasonable person in possession of the same facts would believe it was. The behaviour must have occurred on at least two occasions. If shooting candids, this is unlikely to happen, unless you persistently follow someone. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, harassment is a criminal offence. It’s not in Scotland, but you might be arrested for breach of the peace.
Invasion of Privacy: Can you be arrested for it?
This is a civil matter for which you can be sued, not a criminal offence, but it’s unclear if it’s possible to invade someone’s privacy by taking their photo in public. Each case will be decided on its circumstances.
The Press Complaints Commission’s code of practice advises: “It is unacceptable to photograph individuals in private places without consent.” It also defines a private place as: “Public or private property where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.”
Libel: Can you be arrested for it?
Libel is a matter for the civil courts, which can award considerable payments to parties found to have been libelled. The majority of instances where libel is an issue for photographers is in their image title or a caption.
For example, taking a candid shot of a scruffily dressed person lying down on a park bench, giving it the title ‘Homeless drunk sleeping’ and sticking it on an online gallery will leave you wide open for libel action. How do you know the person was homeless? How do you know they were a drunk? Are you even sure they were sleeping? Never use conjecture in titles or captions. Stick to the facts.
Obstruction: Can you be arrested for it?
Be careful with your tripod – setting one up in the middle of a busy street may class as an obstruction of the free passage of the highway (highways include footways and cycle paths). Legally, the police could arrest you, but they are more likely to ask you to remove the tripod, only arresting you if you refuse to take the obstruction away. You can also be arrested if you obstruct a policeman in the execution of his duty.
Just standing in the street taking a photograph is unlikely to lead to an obstruction charge, but be careful if you are shooting a disturbance, as the police might think you’re one of the perpetrators.
Photographers Rights: Selling your pictures
Commercial vs Non-commercial
Another important consideration when taking pictures on public or private land is whether the images are for commercial use. There’s no clear-cut photographic or legal definition between the classifications at the point of image capture, and this is where it becomes very cloudy.
When you take a picture, the ultimate destination for that image may not be clear – a picture you take for personal use could be used in the future for commercial gain.
Non-commercial photography is any photo taken for which you don’t receive commercial reward. This includes competition entries taken in good faith. Commercial photography is everything else, including pictures shot to sell as prints or through stock websites, advertising, calendars or commissioned work.
Do you need a permit?
Taking photos for commercial gain in a public place may be prohibited in some instances. Operating a business (such as carrying out a commercial photoshoot) in your local park could be forbidden by law, for instance.
Although it’s hard for authorities to police the situation, a call to the relevant council or authority will tell you if you need a permit or have to pay a fee. However, unless you’re a pro with huge lighting rigs that prevent the public from going about their business, you’re unlikely to be prevented from doing so.
The exceptions to this in the UK are Trafalgar Square, Parliament Square and some Royal Parks, where filming and photography bylaws are ruthlessly enforced to prevent photography for business, trade, profession or employment purposes.
In the case of taking photos on private property without permission to shoot for commercial use, any financial gain could result in the owner seeking losses, or a percentage of your gain through court.
It’s advisable to get permission in writing, or a property release, particularly if you plan to submit shots to a picture library, which is unlikely to accept them otherwise. This is also true of people shots, and it’s best to get consent at the time of shooting by asking subjects to sign a model release form.
Photographers Rights: Copyright & Trademarks
Copyright protects your rights and stops people stealing your work. But not only does it protect your images, it also protects the rights of many other people’s work, such as literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works.
Copyright arises in original works if they have been produced as a result of a person’s skill, labour and effort and are recorded in permanent form. So it’s important to consider what copyright works may appear in your photographs (see our quick tutorial on how to protect your own copyright: What is metadata: copyright photos in 4 steps)
What is protected?
It will usually be an infringement of copyright to take a photograph of a work protected by copyright without the permission of the copyright owner – works of art, jewellery, fabric, glassware etc. The same applies to photos, television images and even theatrical performances.
If all this seems worryingly restrictive, then rest easy, as incidental inclusion of a copyright work, such as a painting in the background or advertising material on display in a street scene, isn’t an infringement of copyright.
However, whether something is included ‘incidentally’ will depend on the purpose for which it has been included; it must not have been placed in the background on purpose.
There will also not be an infringement if you take a photograph of buildings or sculptures permanently situated in a public place, or in premises that offer open access to the public.
Did You Know?
Taking a picture of a UK bank note is illegal unless you have written permission from the Bank of England or the relevant issuer in Scotland or Ireland, as applicable.
Photographers Rights: Animals and Plants
When out and about photographing wild birds and animals, you’ll still need to observe the boundaries of public and private land (see over).
More importantly, you need to consider the welfare of the creatures you’re photographing, as well as the protection they’re offered by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (for England and Wales) ensures that you do so by law. While there are no restrictions on photography, the Act makes it an offence to intentionally or recklessly disturb any wild bird listed in Schedule One of the Act while it’s at or near its nest, or its dependent young.
The Act also covers certain plants and wild animals, so stay up to date with the latest lists and, if required, obtain a licence to take pictures – contact Natural England, Scottish Natural Heritage or the Countryside Council for Wales to do so.
Photography in Zoos and Animal Parks
Zoos are private property and will have their own restrictions that they’re free to impose on photographers. As a general rule, most zoos will allow photography for private and personal use.
You’ll need express permission for commercial photography and this will usually require payment of a fee. Check with the zoo before you visit.
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