Photography Law. Your rights as a photographer.
How to stay on the right side of the Police, Security & Public.
This article is specifically geared to UK Photography Law at the time of writing. Legislation frequently changes . Other countries may have very strict laws regarding photography. This article has been produced as a rough guide and I can’t be held responsible actions you may take as a result of reading this while you’re out photographing in public. Always adopt a common sense approach and if in doubt, don’t do it! I don’t accept responsibility for any loss, damage or inconvenience suffered as a result of following information If you have any concerns about legal aspects of your work, the best advice is to consult a solicitor who specialises in this area.
Photography Law is an evolving beast.
I’ve written about photographing in public places historically but it’s always a valuable subject to return to, especially with more and more hostility directed towards photographers as they photograph in public places. A photographer on the streets can only be attributed to having a magnetic target on your back. People jumping in front of the camera, becoming abusive and generally quoting factually incorrect Photography Law along with the “You’re breaching my human rights” card simply by photographing a public space as they go about their business. I imagine many of these same people wouldn’t even take notice if a TV crew were working on the same spot filming the streets or if they saw themselves on TV at a concert or a large sporting event. For some strange reason, it simply wouldn’t evoke the same reaction as a solitary photographer working on a public street in a city centre.
Photography is subject to many laws that restrict where and when can operate and as a commercial photography business so a knowledge of Photography Law is really important, if nothing more than being able to provide a definitive answer when challenged or to prevent photographing illegally or running the risk of having legal action taken against you if you are flouting the law. I’ve worked as a professional commercial photographer for ten years but ironically, my previous career was in law enforcement as a Police Sergeant where amongst other disciplines, I worked as a qualified Evidence Gatherer on the Police Support Unit (or what many people will know as a riot team.)
I’m pretty confident about where and what I’m allowed to photograph in public, but I’m able to provide a number of examples where I’ve had hostility from members of the public or even been challenged by Police where the circumstances did not warrant it. Generally speaking, in the UK if you are in a public area, you may legally take as many photographs, either recreationally or for Business Photography purposes without fear of the law. However, over the past few years there have been several well-publicised incidents in which both amateur and professional photographers have been stopped and questioned by the police, and in some cases even arrested, while innocently taking photographs in public places. Let’s look at just one small example from my own experiences.
Photography Law Case Study. Why did the Police feel the need to challenge Commercial Photography in a public place?
I freelance for a business photographing Digital and Advertising Photography for a national client. During an assignment I was on a footpath on a main public road in a city centre location, around 50 metres from a College. I was approached by a plain clothes Police Officer who requested to know what I was doing. I didn’t feel the need to have to justify my actions. I’d not been acting suspiciously and legally didn’t need to offer any personal information. Photography Law essentially placed me in the same legal position as any other member of public on the same road who didn’t have a camera. Would the officer have challenged an innocent member of public standing on a public footpath. I think not! Stating the obvious, I had the decency to tell the Officer that “I was taking photographs” before I was told that my behaviour was suspicious because I was outside an Educational Establishment despite the fact that it was half term and the College was closed. Any unscrupulous individual taking photographs for a clandestine reason or for immoral purposes would be highly unlikely to be standing in plain view with large tripod and a professional camera on top. Eventually, having provided him with a very frank reason for why I was there, he left, having achieved nothing at all.
24-year-old media graduate Alan Noble was shooting a time lapse video for a personal project promoting the North East, when Security Staff from Port of Tyne demanded that he cease filming even though he was doing sop from a public footpath and highway. Security treated Alan in a hostile manner, became abusive “lunatic” when he declined to comply before Police were called. Security threatened Alan with arrest and at one point, a uniformed security operative also grabbed his tripod and demanded to see the images he had captured. Fortunately Alan supported his story while filming the event unfold. Thankfully when the police were called they supported the filmmaker – agreeing after the end of the clip that he was well within his rights. Further information about this incident can be viewed at phnat.org
Police Services in the UK address gaps in Photography Law with clear guidance
Some Police forces have subsequently made efforts to publish clear guidance to officers. Contact with photographers, reporters and television crews is a regular occurrence for many officers and staff. The media influences our reputation so it’s crucial to maintain good working relations with its members, even in difficult circumstances. The Metropolitan Police have released an advice document that states;
“We encourage officers and the public to be vigilant against terrorism but recognise the importance not only of protecting the public from terrorism but also promoting the freedom of the public and the media to take and publish photographs. Guidance around the issue has been made clear to officers and PCSOs through briefings and internal communications. The following advice is available to all officers and provides a summary of the guidance around photography in public places.”
Best Practice for keeping on the right side of Photography Law
You have the right to photograph any subject providing you are in a public place and your actions are not carried out for the purposes of terrorism. If you are stopped on the street, remember;
Do not hand over your images or delete images from your memory cards or hard drives. You have the right to keep any photographs you take unless confiscated via a warrant.
You “DO NOT” need permission from your subject to take their photograph.
The copyright to any photographs you take belong to you, not the subject you have photographed (Imagine taking a photograph at a concert of a crowd and having 10,000 people demanding that they own the photograph you’ve taken. It’s ridiculous but a huge misconception that people actually believe)
You cannot be removed or restricted from taking photographs from a public place.
Police Officers may not forcibly viewed by a police officer unless they have good reason to do so.
Photography Law – Your restrictions as a photographer in public places
Understandably, there are circumstances as a photographer that will render your images or footage illegal and where Police rightfully have the have the authority to stop and search, seize your images, confiscate your equipment and arrest photographers with a view to prosecuting. A few of these examples are listed below;
Your photographs may not be indecent.
You may not take photographs in a private establishment or location without permission.
You may not take photographs for the purposes of terrorism.
London specific– You may not take photos for commercial purposes in Trafalgar Square or Parliament Square without permission of the Mayor!
You may not be persistent or aggressive if a subject will not be photographed as you could be committing the offence of harassment. Photographing another person in public only becomes harassment, as defined by the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, if “the person whose course of conduct is in question ought to know that it amounts to harassment of another if a reasonable person in possession of the same information would think the course of conduct amounted to harassment of the other.” In other words, taking one or two photos of someone isn’t harassment, but repeatedly deliberately stalking them and photographing them despite their protests would be a criminal offence.
Terrorism Act 2000
If an individual is behaving suspiciously, then it is important that the suspicions should naturally be reported the incident to police or through polite questioning of the individual. The police have a number of powers related to photography for terrorist purposes, but it’s inappropriate for Police to stop legitimate photographers from photographing. It is not an offence for the public or press photographers to take photographs of a public building and police officers photography law prevents do not have police, even with powers under counter-terrorism legislation to delete pictures or destroy memory cards or digital images. Equipment and media can only be seized when Police reasonably suspects they are intended to be used in connection with terrorism.
Photography and Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000
The power to stop and search someone under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 no longer exists. Police officers continue to have the power to stop and search anyone who they reasonably suspect to be a terrorist under Section 43 of the Terrorism Act.
Photography and Section 43 of the Terrorism Act 2000
Officers have the power to stop and search a person who they reasonably suspect to be a terrorist. The purpose of the stop and search is to discover whether that person has in their possession anything which may constitute evidence that they are a terrorist. Officers have the power to view digital images contained in mobile telephones or cameras carried by a person searched under S43 of the Terrorism Act 2000 to discover whether the images constitute evidence that the person is involved in terrorism. Officers also have the power to seize and retain any article found during the search which the officer reasonably suspects may constitute evidence that the person is a terrorist. This includes any mobile telephone or camera containing such evidence. Officers do not have the power to delete digital images or destroy film at any point during a search. Deletion or destruction may only take place following seizure if there is a lawful power (such as a court order) that permits such deletion or destruction.
Section 58A of the Terrorism Act 2000
Section 58A of the Terrorism Act 2000 covers the offence of eliciting, publishing or communicating information about members of the armed forces, intelligence services or police where the information is, by its very nature, designed to provide practical assistance to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism. Any officer making an arrest for an offence under Section 58A must be able to demonstrate a reasonable suspicion that the information was, by its very nature, designed to provide practical assistance to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism. It would ordinarily be unlawful to use section 58A to arrest people photographing police officers in the course of normal policing activities, including protests because there would not normally be grounds for suspecting that the photographs were being taken to provide assistance to a terrorist. An arrest would only be lawful if an arresting officer had a reasonable suspicion that the photographs were being taken in order to provide practical assistance to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism. There is nothing preventing officers asking questions of an individual who appears to be taking photographs of someone who is or has been a member of Her Majesty’s Forces (HMF), Intelligence Services or a constable so long as this is being done for a lawful purpose and is not being done in a way that prevents, dissuades or inhibits the individual from doing something which is not unlawful.
This is a sensitive area and every photographer needs to be aware of the potential impact of photographing children in a public place. Like myself as a parent, we’re understandably protective of our children. They are viewed as vulnerable subjects and many photographers with innocent intentions have found themselves in awkward positions either legally or from aggressive parents who jump irrationally to the wrong conclusions about why their child is being photographed. If you are taking photographs in a public place, at sporting events sports event or just on the street, there are some guidelines you must follow. There is no specific law in the UK against photographing people, even children. Photography Law means it is your right as a photographer to take a photo of whatever subject you unless it’s in a location where they might reasonably expect privacy. If you’re working commercially, you may be requested not to take photographs of individual or groups of children from a safeguarding perspective, so if you are a professional, then failing to adhere to these requests is likely to impact negatively on your reputation and ability to obtain repeat assignments. Legally, there is no legal jurisdiction under law to prevent you from taking photographs, but please do take a common sense approach.
You may receive some questions or comments from your subjects and we have detailed an appropriate response to these:
”You have no right to take a photo of me or my child!”
By law, you can take a photo of anyone from any public place. If it is a private establishment like a bar for example, you must get permission from the owner.
“You can’t use those photos unless I sign a model release form.”
There is no requirement for you to sign a model release form under UK law, unless you intend to use the image in commercial work like advertising. It is advisable to get a model release form signed under those circumstances.
“You are invading my personal privacy.”
There are no specific privacy laws that stop me taking photographs in a public place apart from locations where your subject might reasonably expect privacy for example if I was taking a photograph “You are invading my privacy.”
“I would like to see your photography license or ID”
You do not need a photography license to take photos from a public or even in a private location if you have the consent of the owner. Photography licenses are something that do not exist in the UK.
“I do not like that image of me/ my child — I want it deleted”
I’m afraid that the image owner ship is mine as the photographer. The subject has no rights or ownership to the image. Any attempt to delete the image is against UK law. This also applies if I’m photographing figures in authority like security guards or police or the general public. Only a Police Warrant will allow photographs to be taken away.
“My child is/ I am under 16, so you cannot publish the photo.”
There is no age law to prevent the publication of any photos regardless of the age of the subject. There are indecency laws which cover all imagery.
Photography Law and how we conduct ourselves in public is a massive area of interest that could be written about in volumes and we’ve literally just broken the surface. Be polite and respectful, ask permission to take photographs from a parent or guardian where appropriate and act responsibly and sensibly using a commons sense approach. Following just these three steps will make the whole process of photographing in public, a much more enjoyable experience. Put personal safety before anything else and enjoy your work. If you can educate just a handful of people, then we should be able to slowly reduce hostility and suspicions about why and who we are photographing.