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Re: [Sonoma-County-Photography-Group] Please Read: a note about persmissions and people

From: Benjamin
Sent on: Friday, August 13, 2010 2:27 PM
The Photographer��s Right 
Your Rights and 
Remedies When 
Stopped or 
for Photography 

Updated November 

About this Guide 

Confrontations that impair the constitutional right to make images are 
becoming more common. To fight the 
abuse of your right to free expression, 
you need to know your rights to take 
photographs and the remedies available if your rights are infringed. 

The General Rule 

The general rule in the United States 
is that anyone may take photographs 
of whatever they want when they are 
in a public place or places where they 
have permission to take photographs. 
Absent a specific legal prohibition 
such as a statute or ordinance, you are 
legally entitled to take photographs. 
Examples of places that are traditionally considered public are streets, 
sidewalks, and public parks. 

Property owners may legally prohibit photography on their premises 
but have no right to prohibit others 
from photographing their property 
from other locations. Whether you 
need permission from property own

ers to take photographs while on their 
premises depends on the circumstances. In most places, you may reasonably assume that taking photographs is allowed and that you do not 
need explicit permission. However, 
this is a judgment call and you should 
request permission when the circumstances suggest that the owner is likely to object. In any case, when a property owner tells you not to take photographs while on the premises, you are 
legally obligated to honor the request. 

Some Exceptions to the Rule 

There are some exceptions to the 
general rule. A significant one is that 
commanders of military installations 
can prohibit photographs of specific 
areas when they deem it necessary to 
protect national security. The U.S. 
Department of Energy can also prohibit photography of designated 
nuclear facilities although the publicly 
visible areas of nuclear facilities are 
usually not designated as such. 

Members of the public have a very 
limited scope of privacy rights when 
they are in public places. Basically, 
anyone can be photographed without 
their consent except when they have 
secluded themselves in places where 
they have a reasonable expectation of 
privacy such as dressing rooms, rest-
rooms, medical facilities, and inside 
their homes. 

Permissible Subjects 

Despite misconceptions to the contrary, the following subjects can 
almost always be photographed lawfully from public places: 

accident and fire scenes 
bridges and other infrastructure 
residential and commercial buildings 
industrial facilities and public utilities 
transportation facilities (e.g., airports) 
Superfund sites 
criminal activities 
law enforcement officers 

Who Is Likely to Violate Your Rights 

Most confrontations are started by 
security guards and employees of 
organizations who fear photography. 
The most common reason given is 
security but often such persons have 
no articulated reason. Security is 
rarely a legitimate reason for restricting photography. Taking a photograph is not a terrorist act nor can a 
business legitimately assert that taking a photograph of a subject in public 
view infringes on its trade secrets. 

On occasion, law enforcement officers may object to photography but 
most understand that people have the 
right to take photographs and do not 
interfere with photographers. They do 
have the right to keep you away from 
areas where you may impede their 
activities or endanger safety. However, they do not have the legal right 
to prohibit you from taking photographs from other locations. 

They Have Limited Rights to Bother, 
Question, or Detain You 

Although anyone has the right to 
approach a person in a public place 
and ask questions, persistent and 
unwanted conduct done without a 
legitimate purpose is a crime in many 
states if it causes serious annoyance. 
You are under no obligation to explain 
the purpose of your photography nor 
do you have to disclose your identity 
except in states that require it upon 
request by a law enforcement officer. 

If the conduct goes beyond mere 
questioning, all states have laws that 
make coercion and harassment criminal offenses. The specific elements 
vary among the states but in general it 
is unlawful for anyone to instill a fear 
that they may injure you, damage or 
take your property, or falsely accuse 
you of a crime just because you are 
taking photographs. 

Private parties have very limited 
rights to detain you against your will 
and may be subject to criminal and 
civil charges should they attempt to 
do so. Although the laws in most 

states authorize citizen��s arrests, such 
authority is very narrow. In general, 
citizen��s arrests can be made only for 
felonies or crimes committed in the 
person��s presence. Failure to abide by 
these requirements usually means 
that the person is liable for a tort such 
as false imprisonment. 

They Have No Right to Confiscate 
Your Film 

Sometimes agents acting for entities 
such as owners of industrial plants 
and shopping malls may ask you to 
hand over your film. Absent a court 
order, private parties have no right to 
confiscate your film. Taking your film 
directly or indirectly by threatening to 
use force or call a law enforcement 
agency can constitute criminal offenses such as theft and coercion. It can 
likewise constitute a civil tort such as 
conversion. Law enforcement officers 
may have the authority to seize film 
when making an arrest but otherwise 
must obtain a court order. 

Your Legal Remedies If Harassed 

If someone has threatened, intimidated, or detained you because you were 
taking photographs, they may be 
liable for crimes such as kidnapping, 
coercion, and theft. In such cases, you 
should report them to the police. 

You may also have civil remedies 
against such persons and their 
employers. The torts for which you 
may be entitled to compensation 
include assault, conversion, false 
imprisonment, and violation of your 
constitutional rights. 

Other Remedies If Harassed 

If you are disinclined to take legal 
action, there are still things you can do 
that contribute to protecting the right 
to take photographs. 

(1) Call the local newspaper and see if 
they are interested in running a story. 
Many newspapers feel that civil liberties are worthy of serious coverage. 
(2) Write to or call the supervisor of 
the person involved, or the legal or 
public relations department of the 
entity, and complain about the event. 

(3) Make the event publicly known on 
an Internet forum that deals with photography or civil rights issues. 
How to Handle Confrontations 

Most confrontations can be defused 
by being courteous and respectful. If 
the party becomes pushy, combative, 
or unreasonably hostile, consider calling the police. Above all, use good 
judgment and don��t allow an event to 
escalate into violence. 

In the event you are threatened with 
detention or asked to surrender your 
film, asking the following questions 
can help ensure that you will have the 
evidence to enforce your legal rights: 

1. What is the person��s name? 
2. Who is their employer? 
3. Are you free to leave? If not, how do 
they intend to stop you if you decide 
to leave? What legal basis do they 
assert for the detention? 
4. Likewise, if they demand your film, 
what legal basis do they assert for the 

This is a general education guide 
about the right to take photographs 
and is necessarily limited in scope. 
For more information about the laws 
that affect photography, I refer you to 
the second edition of my book, Legal 
Handbook for Photographers (Amherst 
Media, 2006). 

This guide is not intended to be legal 
advice nor does it create an attorney 
client relationship. Readers should 
seek the advice of a competent attorney when they need legal advice 
regarding a specific situation. 

published by: 
Bert P. Krages II 
Attorney at Law 
6665 S.W. Hampton Street, Suite 200 
Portland, Oregon 97223 
�� 2003 Bert P. Krages II 

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