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Street photography and law

Jay Kilgore , Jul 19, 2002; 07:11 a.m.

Hello all,

For a while now I have been a lurker watching and applying the useful comments people have left. Yesterday 7/18/02, I encountered an unsual interaction with a couple.

I was at a local waterfall (It's more of a water display) when I first saw four generations of ladies, great-grandmother, grandmother, mother and young daughter. It was an awesome sight. The young granddaughter was playing in the water while the older ones were watching her.

I began to fire off a few frames when I am approached by the father. He began to tell me that I cant take pictures of his "women" cause I dont have the right. I told him they are in a public place so I am not invading privacy. He told me that what I was doing was against the law.

What I am wondering is, if anyone knows where I can look up the laws regarding street photography in Minnesota? I enjoy street photography but by no means want to go to jail.

Thanks, Jay


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Jerry Litynski , Jul 19, 2002; 09:47 a.m.

You may inquire with the local law enforcement office, but rather than argue, just move on would be the easy way. (You cannot use the photos for other than your personal enjoyment...unless you could get the father figure to sign a release.) Or use a stronger telephoto lens.

There is no right answer. You have rights. The family in the park has rights.

Alan Krantz , Jul 19, 2002; 09:52 a.m.

Common curtsey would be to refrain from taking the picture if the family asks you.

brian reeves , Jul 19, 2002; 09:54 a.m.

I once witnessed a bizarre exchange in the Galleria shopping mall in Houston, TX. A guy with a 35mm camera taking pictures at the mall happened to get a pic or two of some Arab women (veils and all). Immediately several large men surrounded that guy, a hurried discussion ensued, a large wad of bills appeared and many were exchanged for the roll of film. The 'bodyguard' then pulled the film out of the canister, exposing it, then tossed it in a trash can.

Everyone went their separate ways. The scene was over in about a minute. If I had a camera I would have been tempted to shoot the interaction, but alas I was unarmed.

BTW, this was years ago, not recent.

Jon Dubovsky , Jul 19, 2002; 10:19 a.m.

For a fantastic and clear book on the law about taking photographs, I strongly recommend Legal Handbook for Photographers: The Rights and Liabilities of Making Images by Krages. It doesn't cover the law about publishing photographs, but it's the best book of its kind (that I've found).

If you were in a public place (i.e. not private land) and you're not revealing private information about them, you're pretty much free to take whatever pictures you want... provided you're not using a 600mm lens to look through someone's bedroom window, or photographing a military installation, or a Superfund site, etc. Read the book... it will clear up a lot.

As for publishing those images, in many states you couldn't do so for commercial reasons without a release form. Note the words "many" and "commercial." I don't know about Minnesota, but here in Virginia, we do have a "right of publicity" law on the books (8.01-40, to be exact), so I'd need a release to use those photos in an advertisement, etc.

There are a ton of web sites on the publishing half of this topic, some accurate, some lousy. A good short summary is http://www.photosecrets.com/p14.html.

Jeff Spirer , Jul 19, 2002; 10:19 a.m.

Shopping malls are generally considered private property.

I'm no lawyer, but I've read up quite a bit on this, and one should be able to legally photograph anyone in public. Whether or not this is worth arguing about with unwilling subjects, other than in a potential newsworthy situation, is up to you.

Douglas K. , Jul 19, 2002; 12:45 p.m.

My understanding is identical to Jeff's -- you've got the right to photograph people in public places, even if they object. And thank God that right exists, or e.g. we wouldn't have videotape of cops beating up unarmed citizens, just to cite a recent news event.

Jay Kilgore , Jul 19, 2002; 02:35 p.m.


Thanks for all the info, I will go to the book store right now and look for that book.

You guys have given me some great resources to start my look. I visited the minnesota law library site but I had too general of an ideal to search.

I agree, I am on public property and for the most part they encourage photography of the landscapes so why should people freak out? If someone asked me to stop or not take their pictures, of course I would stop right away and I did, but it was the arguement afterwards that got on my nerves. He said, because he was the first one to take his daughters picture he owns the copyright to her. My retort was "Actually sir, the hospital was the first one to take her picture so in your world THEY own the copyright. Also I would love to see a signed contract from her stating you "own" the copyrights." I left well enough alone and didnt take any, it was that exchange that upsetted me.

Mike Dixon , Jul 19, 2002; 02:54 p.m.

You can't copyright a person--you can only copyright specific creative works. As her guardian, he (or the mother) would need to sign a release allowing use of her image (if a release was even required for certain applications).

The guy had absolutely no idea what he was talking about.

Congratulations, you've now encountered the most common source of trouble when photographing people in public: some guy with "alpha-male syndrome." Though I've had some people ask me to not photograph them, the only times I've encountered an aggressive attitude about it were from guys (usually ones in their 20s) who were with women.

Robert M Johnson , Jul 26, 2002; 11:08 p.m.

Here is a case where I was being "asked" to leave a roller rink/ arcade by some guy and he made the shot!!


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