Rules of Engagement

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This page (Rules of Engagement (ROE)) concerns my layman’s knowledge of 1st Amendment issues, focusing on one’s legal rights to photograph in public, and post such pictures on the internet.

This should not be construed as legal advice, as I am certainly not a lawyer.  If you think you might need legal guidance or consultation – then please contact a competent attorney.

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It’s the sentence every photographer dreads…

“DON’T TAKE MY PICTURE!

As an artist, I always obey this statement, regardless of the law.  It’s just good business; and besides, who wants to make enemies?

But what does the Law say about photography in public settings?  Simple Answer:  

If I can see it,
I can film it.

...even if they tell me not to!

Afterall, in a public setting – there can be no expectation of privacy”.

Generally speaking, in the US – photographers may legally take pictures of anything (person, place, or thing) which is in public view.

This applies to amateur shutterbugs through professional photographers, and all points in between.   Regardless of credentials, and defined as anyone who calls himself or herself a “photographer“.

Such images can be posted on blogs and websites, so long as they represent fair & truthful depictions of the scene, and cause no damage to business or property.

Suppose someone says, “I forbid you from taking my picture!”  If YOU (the photographer) are in a public setting, then “YES YOU CAN take their picture!”

Some might call you a jerk, and some people might even beat you up!  But LAWFULLY, in accordance with 1st Amendment – a photographer is allowed to take that person’s picture all they want – so long as the subject is “in public view“.

Suppose they’re standing on their own front lawn, but the photographer is on the city sidewalk?

If the photographer can see that person on his front lawn, then that person is “in public view”, and the photographer may take his picture, even if lawn guy says, “Don’t take my picture”.

This is how “lawfully” the accused murder suspect Casey Anthony & her family were photographed on their front lawn.  Interesting to note, patriarch George Anthony employed one very useful tool against unwanted photographers.

To ensure photographers kept their distance, George pulled out his garden hose and began “watering his lawn“.

Just as photographers have a right to take pictures, George Anthony has a right to water his lawn.

So long as water stays on the grass & not on the city sidewalk, then any damaged camera equipment will be at the expense of the photographer.

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Exceptions To The Rule:
(when can I not take pictures?)

  • When the subject of a photo is misrepresented, or portrayed in an unfair or prejudicial light,
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  • Trademarked images may be photographed, however there may be legal action taken against anyone who publishes images of that trademark (or posts that trademark’s image on facebook or youtube),
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  • When the subject’s identity is used (without permission) for advertising or commercial use,
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  • In public settings, where a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy (e.g. public restrooms, clothing store fitting rooms, or ATMs),
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  • Sensitive military & government facilities (usually where there are signs posted)
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  • If the photographer interferes with, or “obstructs” police, fire, or medical personnel from their civic / professional duties.
    ..

 

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What follows is a list of relevant links (written by people infinitely better versed than I) about the nuances and laws governing privacy, expression, photography, and publication.

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Editor’s Choice!

Photographer’s Guide To Privacy

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attribution-noncommercial

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Photography & The Law – U.S.

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Photography & The Law: Know Your Rights

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Legal Pitfalls in Taking or Using Photographs of Copyright Material, Trademarks and People

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Photography, the Law and Photographers Rights

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Business & Legal FAQ

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Development & Photography Ethics

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