Photography and the law -
As of May 2012
Please note that this is an overview of a photographer’s right to take pictures, it is a rough guide only and not a definitive legal statement.
Excerpts from ‘Photographers Rights And The Law In The UK’ A guide for UK photographers, updated October 2011
Why it’s important
Time and time again incidents have been reported of both amateur and professional photographers being harassed and intimidated by the police or private security guards when taking photographs in public places.
The security firms at venues openly admit that their guards are told to actively discourage any photography. It is important that you know your rights in the event of something similar happening to you.
Security guards do not have stop and search powers or the right to seize your equipment or delete images or confiscate film under any circumstances.
The police have limited stop and search powers. In some circumstances, the police may grab your film or memory cards but they are still not authorised to delete any images.
• It is any citizen’s right to take pictures in public places (apart from a few high security restrictions)
• You cannot ever be forced to hand over equipment.
• You cannot ever be forced to delete images that you have taken. (If an offence has been committed then the photographs will be used as evidence, if no offence has been committed then they are innocent and yours to do with as you please)
It is always best to be as sensible and sensitive as possible when taking images particularly of people and children. And if you are approached, be polite but firm. When In doubt seek legal advice.
It is also important to clarify the difference between commercial and non commercial use of an image.
Non Commercial photography is classed as any photograph taken for which you do not receive any commercial reward or gain- i.e. money.
Commercial photography is everything else, including advertising, T-shirts, commissioned work, flyers, images to sell on your website.
For example - if you visit the zoo, which is private property, you will generally be allowed to photograph all the animals freely and share the images with your friends via Facebook or any photo sharing web site like Flickr. However you would not be allowed to sell or use your photographs for commercial gain without the permission of the zoo owners.
If you’re on a public right of way - such as a public pavement, footpath or public highway you’re free to take photographs for personal and commercial use so long as you’re not causing an obstruction to other users or falling foul of anti-Terrorism laws or even the Official Secrets Act.
You can take photos of people in public places within reason, but if you start shoving your zoom lens up their nostrils or taking action shots of their every step you may face a legal charge of harassment or breach of the peace. Harassment is defined as a ‘course of conduct’ (so it has to happen at least twice) that causes another person ‘alarm or distress’.
Photographers are free to use their photographs of people taken in public places as they wish - including for commercial gain.
People and privacy
UK laws are fairly vague when it comes to defining what constitutes an invasion of privacy, but while street shots should cause no problem, you might get in hot water if you’re strapping on colossal telephoto lens and zooming in on folks stripping off in their bathrooms - even if you are snapping from a public place.
There are no laws against taking photos of children, but someone taking an unhealthy interest can rightly expect to attract unwelcome attention from the authorities (and quite probably passers by) pretty sharpish.
Be also mindful that if you’re taking pictures some people will unlikely be pleased with the attention and probably won’t be bothered about the niceties of the law in their response. If someone asks you to stop take pictures of them, it’s generally a good idea to do so.
Property owners have no right to stop people taking photos of their buildings, so long as the photographer is standing in a public place (e.g. the road outside).
However, if you’re standing on private property and the landowner/occupier objects, then they have every right to request that you stop immediately and ask you to leave if you refuse.
Many museums, art galleries, football grounds, concert venues and similar places ban photography as a condition of entry. The same applies to all private property open to the public in general - e.g. offices, shops, even your local chippy - with the owner or occupier having the right to demand that you stop taking photos and leave the premises. Most shopping centres and malls stand on private land and therefore have this right.