Let’s say you’re a street photographer, but someone has said to you that they objected to you taking their photo and threatened legal action. What exactly are your rights with street photography?
Street photography in public places
In summary, it is legal to take photos in public places. You don’t need to ask for anyone’s permission, including the parents of children. This also includes any buildings or sites, but may not include places like government schools, which although state-owned, are considered as private property for these purposes.
However, photography that is regarded as gross violation of privacy, such as photos or videos that exceed community standards, can be criminal offences. Even if taken on public property, photo-taking intended to cause harm can also be considered as part of harassment or stalking, but the person making the complaint would need to have proof.
Also, those engaged in ‘private acts’ such as undress, or other acts in which people expect privacy, may not be photographed without their consent. And then there are grey areas, like the taking of a photo of a naked young child, which may be regarded as ‘indecent’.
While photography is generally allowed in public, there are some limits. For instance, if you’re standing on a private school’s oval while children are playing cricket, the school can exercise their property ownership rights to dictate the terms of access – including use of cameras.
There are also scenarios in which an organisation has been given temporary control of a public place, like a beach, to hold an event, and so terms of access can similarly be exercised.
If the photos are taken from public places that are not under private control, then street photography even of the private event is generally allowed.
Photography for commercial purposes
What about if you are taking photos for commercial reasons – ie. to sell something – in a public place? In this instance, a release form should be obtained and signed, authorising the use of the image for the sale of a product or service.
In places like for example public museums, while photography itself may be permitted, you may need permission of copyright holders to snap certain works.
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