Archive for June, 2008

June 30, 2008

The right to shoot vs. the right to publish

In November 2007, American Civil Liberties Union of Washington announced that an amateur photographer has obtained a settlement of $8,000 from the city of Seattle after he was arrested simply for taking photographs of police making an arrest. The ACLU represented the photographer in his wrongful arrest case.

It turns out people have the right to take photographs in public places. So, I should probably repeat my attempt to take pictures at the Metropolitan Opera. Last time I tried I was stopped because the flash could cause fire. They told me that despite the changes in technology, the archaic rule still applied.

So, are there any laws limiting us from taking photos when we feel so? Only two. You can’t take photos of the following:

– Military installations or operations.

– People who have a reasonable expectation of privacy, meaning people who are some place that’s not easily visible to the general public. Examples: if you take photos through someone’s window or when a person punches in his PIN number at the cash machine.

That’s in a nutshell. For details, consult the Photographers’ Guide to Privacy that explains the invasion of privacy standards in the 50 states and D.C. –

On the other hand, there is a difference between THE RIGHT TO SHOOT and THE RIGHT TO PUBLISH. Publishing is a rather gray area. Here are some basic rules that seem to be wide open to interpretation:

– Thou shan’t reveal other person’s private facts (e.g. medical information) unless these facts have already been revealed by such persons publicly.
– Thou shan’t place another person in a false light before the public.
– Thou shan’t take advantage of someone else’s likeness for commercial gain without their permission.
– Thou shan’t sell photographs of copyrighted work.

For examples that shed some light on these gray issues, please consult this document –

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