ACLU Releases List of Rights of Photographers

ACLU Releases List of Rights of Photographers

You have broad rights to photograph in public.  Confrontation with citizens and authorities when you are photographing has become more frequent since 9/11. Police have been particularly sensitive to being filmed or photographed after Ferguson et al.  It’s a good idea to become familiar with laws and your rights so you can act professionally if confronted and hopefully defuse the situation.   The ACLU has put together a good list and review here: Photographers Rights.  This mostly details your rights and how to respond when being stopped by law enforcement.   The ACLU website also has a large number of links to reference legal cases that highlight the laws relating to photography.

Another great resource is The Photographer’s Right – a fantastic compact document produced by attorney Bert Krages that you can print out and keep in your wallet or photo bag in case you need it.

Other locations: In the UK – its very similar to the US but with a few differences:  Photographer’s rights.  For Australia – here’s Street Photographer’s Rights    Wikimedia Commons has a great summary of rights to photograph well known people from public spaces by different countries 

Here’s a quick summary for the US:

  • You have the right to photograph anything that is plainly visible in a public location – including government buildings or police on or off duty.
  • You can photograph private spaces and companies from the public roadway so long as its easily seen, however you can be detained and charged with trespassing if you enter the private area to photography (pretty obvious no?).
  • Laws very by location, but photographing an identifiable person or corporate property can be subject to different laws when the photos are used for commercial use.
  • Police can’t ask to see your images or confiscate your film without a warrant.
  • Police never can delete your photos or video under any circumstances
  • Keep in mind that police CAN order you to cease activities that interfere with their law enforcement operations. Just because you have a right to photograph them doesn’t mean you can stand where ever you want – be respectful.
  • Always be polite, however if you are detained, the right question to ask is “am I free to go”.  Until then you’re stopping to talk to them is considered voluntary. After you ask to leave, they either have to let you go or explain why they are detaining you (and there are not many reasons they can keep you if you are not breaking any rules). Politely remind the officer that photographing is protected under the first amendment and does not constitute reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.
  • Recording of audio can be treated differently because of wiretapping laws so video with sound may be a different situation.


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