Hello there. I am Terry and I am a full-time undergraduate based in Singapore. I take photos, write a blog and design websites.

And no, I'm not a teddy bear.

Photographer’s Right – For Everyone.

This is a stupid message.

A message that encourages the violation of a photographer's right.

Photography is all about painting with light – particles that make up light, called photons, enter your camera, strikes the CCD or CMOS sensor (or for conventional ones, the film and starts an interesting chemical reaction) and you have a scene frozen in time. The product of the process is called photograph, and the action by which youare paitning with light is called photography.

Now digital cameras are becoming a household electronic – you’ll find at least one of those in any household in modern countries. As digital cameras becomes a wildly popular hobby with millions of photographers, from amateurs to professionals, backing the growth of the industry, photographer’s right becomes a prickly issue that gets thrown into the limelight now and then.

Some figures of authority, ranging from police officers to guards, looks upon the act of photography scornfully. They think photography breaches personal privacy (in certain cases, yes, but not applicable universally!), exposes trade secrets, preempts terrorist attacks (read the poster above) and obstructs justice.

Here are some shocking news to share:

  • May 2008: An Iraqi news photographer got beaten up by police officers at a scene of a suicide bombing, although permission was already sought from a higher authority [»]
  • November 2007: Amateur photographer Phil Smith was stopped by police officers from photographin Christmas lights because he doesn’t have “a license to use the camera” [»]
  • July 2007: A former royal bodyguard who held a gun to a freelance photographer’s head after pursuing him in a car chase has walked free from court [»]
  • September 2006: A photographer from the MK News was handcuffed and arrested after trying to take a picture of a road traffic accident. Despite standing behind a police cordon to take his pictures, he was confronted by road traffic police sergeant after attending the scene of a crash [»]
  • July 2006: A 21-year-old teenager, Neftaly Cruz, was arrested by police officers after he was caught photographing the arrest of a drug addict in his neighbourhood using this phone [»]
  • Find more news here.

Your rights, as a photographer

The rights are simplified for easy understanding ;) in 5 simple statements,

Release Your Inhibitions! 1. If you can see it, you can shoot it – This means that when you’re on public property (that’s when parks, roads, playgrounds, nature reserves, pedestrian walks and etc comes into mind), you can shoot anything you wish without seeking anyone’s permission. Neither do you need to stop photographing if a figure of authority asks you to, or question the motive behind your action – you’re in the comfortable zone of being a law-abiding photographer. You are free to photograph pedestrians on the street, babies on strollers in a park, police officers on patrol and etc.

Release Your Inhibitions! 2. You can shoot in places made accessible to the general public, EVEN if it’s on private property – So the guard at The Gardens shopping mall which stopped me from photographing the internal space is wrong. The rule of thumb goes like this: if you have the permission to enter, you have the permission to take photos. So in places such as shopping malls, lobbies of office buildings and amusement parks, you can shoot without any form of restriction.

Release Your Inhibitions! 3. You can shoot the following subjects, perfectly legally – As long as they are visible from places designated to be accessible by the general public, you can shoot (1) accident and fire scenes, (2) children, (3) celebrities, (4) bridges and other infrastructures, (5) transportation facilities like airports, subway stations and buses, (6) criminal activities and (7) law enforcement officers.

4. Nobody has ANY right to confiscate your photos and/or the storage media – Even when it comes to law enforcement officers, nobody can force you to surrender your photos, or the storage media where your photos are stored, under any circumstances. Without a court order, taking your film directly or indirectly by threatening to use force (for example, trying to wrestle that camera out of your hands) or call a law enforcement agency (such as the police) can constitute criminal offenses such as theft and coercion.

5. Other parties have limited rights to question you – You are under no obligation to explain the purpose of your photography nor do you have to disclose your identity except in states that require it upon request by a law enforcement officer. Private parties have very limited rights to detain you against your will and may be subject to criminal and civil charges should they attempt to do so. So when a mall security guard, a lobby doorman questions you over the purpose of photography and asks for your identity, IGNORE them. However, when approached by a law enforcement officer, do disclose your identity, but they have no right to do anything beyond that, such as arresting you, intimidation and confiscation of your equipment. These actions can be filed as kidnapping, coercion and theft.

What you cannot do!

Be very surprised! It’s actually a short list.

1. Do not shoot government buildings - For the ‘if you can see it, you can shoot it‘ rule, exceptions will be government buildings like military installations and nuclear power plants (most probably there’ll be a designated area for photography, so DO NOT venture beyond that area!).

2. Do not shoot people who expects a reasonable degree of privacy – You cannot shoot someone who’s expecting a reasonable degree of privacy – shooting your neighbour’s raunchy weekend through telephoto lenses if she has her curtains draped, is an offence and an intrusion of personal privacy. That also means no climbing into school ground to shoot children.

It’s trickier when it comes to publishing

Publishing a photo comes with restraints, but they’re civil rather than criminal.

1. Do not reveal private facts of the subject – Do not show things reasonable people would not want to make public, unless it has already been done (i.e., the facts already released into public domain). So don’t post the photo of your neighbour digging his nose at home!

2. Do not show someone in bad light – For example, photoshopping a person’s face.

3. Do not sell photos featuring copyright work – Do not photography an art piece and sell it, unless it’s permitted!

4. Do not put someone else’s likeness to commercial use without their permission – using a photo of someone in an ad, for example.

Sources:

  1. The Photographer’s Right by Bert P. Krages. To make life easier for you as a photographer, you can always print it out, fold it and carry it along with you whenever you bring your camera. If someone approaches you and questions your motive, shove that in their face :D
  2. New digital camera? Know how, where you can use it by Andrew Kantor.
  3. Misinformation about your photography rights continues to spread by Andrew Kantor.
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