There are certain photographers rights when it comes to taking photographs - as well as some responsibilities.
Then photographs are covered by copyright protection and there can be a merging of the two.
Where can someone take photographs?
What are photographers rights?
(Yes I know there should be an apostrophe in photographers', but they don't really work on the net.)
Laws vary a lot between countries but the laws in most western countries are similar.
We'll start with Britain and the United States and branch out from there.
Standing in a public place, one is usually free to photograph anything seen from that public space. This will include photographing private property when seen from the public area.
Such rights do not stretch to climbing a private wall from the public side and photographing over the wall.
Permission will be required to take photos on private property. Places like concerts, stately homes and museums will invariably put restrictions on photography as a condition of entry.
In England and Wales, a lot of private land has been opened up to public access by way of footpaths. Photography is a permitted activity here but must be restricted to the areas seen from the public access routes. Some land for recreation, golf courses and sports fields are not included here.
Access across all land in Scotland is much more open.
Some areas of London have their own restrictions. Tourist photos will be all right anywhere, but not business or professional photos in Trafalgar Square or Parliament Square, unless permission is granted and a high fee paid. The same goes for the Royal Parks.
In practice, this means if you are on your own wandering around with a hand-held camera, then there should be no problem. Use a tripod or turn up with a crew of people, then permissions and fees become necessary.
The same general open access to public places applies in the United States.
Just watch out. Some places get really touching when you point a camera at what to us might seem a mundane object.
Photograph a routine satellite dish or radio mast and you can get arrested for spying; China, Russia, some African countries, for example - even in Greece if a military plane is in the picture.
It's hard to imagine why anyone else should care, but as they have the power caution should be exercised, rather than assuming you have the same photographers rights you have at home.
Check with good travel guides or with the Foreign Ministry in your own country and see what the recommendations are.
When photographing people in a public place in the United States, there is no legal right to privacy. The images can then be sold and published and the subject can do little about it. In Britain also, there is no general right to privacy, although photographing someone in a private place becomes a bit of a grey area.
In some countries, however, images of people cannot be used commercially unless the subject has signed a model release form giving permission for the photographs to be used in this way.
Personal privacy laws are very strict in France and some other European countries. After France won the football World Cup, the streets of Paris were full of fans celebrating. Photographs appeared in the newspaper the next day and some people in the images sued the newspaper for invasion of privacy and won.
In practice, no Picture Library will accept photographs of people without model release forms, except for very limited editorial and journalistic use.
The European Convention on Human Rights does provide the right to privacy in private life. The result is a certain vagueness. Photographing someone in a public place is not an invasion of privacy. Whether the subject is happy about being photographed or not doesn't matter, there is nothing they can do about it.
If someone is photographed in a private place without permission, even when the photographer is within a public area, then it does become an invasion of privacy.
In the USA, there is a general freedom to take photographs in a public place and in private areas where permission has been given. Such rights do not extend to some public areas where a certain amount of privacy might be expected, such as medical units and restrooms.
In the States, then people are also free to photograph anyone in a public place in spite of what they might think of it.
It's all part of the Terrorism Acts. Anti-terrorism legislation has also been used to prosecute people for using 'the wrong footpath'.
Fortunately protests have been considerable and police usually show more tolerance here now.
Even when in a public area, the photographer has some responsibilities.
Simply taking a photo of someone is generally harmless but certain behaviour turns into harassment. If the photographer's manner causes distress or anxiety and the action takes place on at least two occasions, then the photography can be called harassment and becomes illegal.
In Scotland, although such activity is not a criminal offence a court order to desist can be obtained.
A photographer must never cause a hazard or obstruction.
Hindering the passage of people or traffic would be an obstruction and becomes illegal.
Using a tripod usually comes into this category and any action taken would depend on the situation and the tolerance of the police.
More caution is necessary at the scene of crime or the scene of an accident. Getting in the way of police and rescue services can become obstruction.
Demonstrations and riots can be risky situations and any photographer needs to be sure s/he does not get confused with the action and become a victim.
Concern over terrorism leads to extra sensitivity when it comes to photographing some locations. The UK Official Secrets Act and various Terrorism Acts cover the gathering of information which could be useful to an enemy or someone planning an act of terrorism.
This makes the law rather vague but previously innocent places become more sensitive; for example, police stations, power stations, military establishments, refineries, ports, telecommunication districts.
It is a criminal offence to enter the private areas of railways, military establishments and aerodromes.
This does not mean they cannot be photographed; it depends on the purpose of the photography. To be against the law, the purpose of the photography must be "prejudicial to the safety or interests of the State". The acts give the police the authority to investigate the situation so photographers need to be prepared for this and be prepared to justify their innocence.
Most importantly, there must be the intention to use the photographs for criminal purposes. For a prosecution to be successful, the authorities have to prove this intention.
These guidelines are much the same in the States.
In America, the Patriot Act and the Homeland Security Act contain measures worthy of the worst Soviet regimes, but nowhere do they place any extra restrictions on photography.
Wildlife has its own legal protection in Britain and many countries. Photographing animals and birds in an open situation is fine but the animals must not be disturbed in the process. Most species are protected in Britain, which means their nests cannot be photographed without a licence.
Although such laws exist in the European Union, in practice some European countries show very little interest in wildlife protection.
In Britain, there is the expression 'Jobsworth'. It's the name given to an overzealous minor official or bossy security guard: "It's more than my job's worth to allow this", as they rush out of a building to stop you taking a photograph from a public place.
Restrictions usually come from security guards or police for reasons of "security" with a reference to terrorism or a crime risk; but they will be acting beyond their authority.
20% of all the CCTV in the world are said to be in Britain. Walk around London for a day and you are going to be covered by well over 200 cameras. Is someone really going to be taking photographs in broad daylight in full view of a mass of cameras if they have evil intent?
Sometimes an official might go on about company trade secrets. They are never going to be on display in a public place if they are to be protected, which makes the objection is ridiculous.
So there is an increasingly neurotic attitude about people taking photographs. Photographing trains, stations, industrial sites, bridges, power stations and the like has not been a problem in the past, but it is becoming so. Photographers get questioned, harassed and intimidated, while security guards and shop owners often take a more aggressive attitude.
Police have no legal right to restrict your photography except where there is a danger or you are hindering them in their work.
Anyone can ask you questions in a public place but extra harassment is usually a crime if the actions make you fearful and threats are involved.
They cannot detain you and you do not have to explain your purpose.
Usually you do not have to give your identity but police powers in this direction are being increased all the time.
Photography has not been shown to present a security risk. 9/11 was not assisted by photography, nor have any terrorist attacks involved photography. On the contrary, on many occasions photographs have prevented crime or assisted in its detection.
What to do
If someone is on private land, then reasonable force can be used to prevent trespass, but there must be no violence, weapons or guns.
Nobody can legally take your camera. Threatening force and threatening to call the police are criminal offences as theft and coercion. Even the police normally need a court order to take camera cards or film.
Whether you find yourself in private land inadvertently or are clearly on public land, the best way to handle such situations is to behave calmly, politely and respectfully. If they get heavy handed, call the police.
If they cause more trouble, ask questions like:
What is your name?
Who is your employer?
What legal right are you using to detain me?
What legal right are you using to take my camera?
Your civil rights can be reinforced with calls to:
civil rights groups;
the public relations department or legal departments of the person concerned;
internet forums that deal with civil rights and photography.
Copyright for photographers is on the next page