From the client’s perspective, this is one of the most searched and asked questions and it is not easy to answer. There are lots of things that we need to consider, but if you are looking for an answer that applies in most situations then here it is:
If a photographer took a photo of you on the street and there were other people around you, he can use that photo without your permission in most cases but there are some exceptions.
First, did you hire a photographer?
If the answer is YES, then legally speaking he can’t use the photos without your consent. In order for the photographer to use the photos, he would need to sign a model release. You need to have some kind of a written agreement with your photographer, but in most cases even if you don’t have a written agreement he does NOT have the permission.
Generally, a lot of the laws are the same, but it makes sense to check up on your own state laws or those of the state where you will be doing some work.
From forms to copyright laws, there is a myriad of information on the web and sifting through it can be mind-boggling. It is worth the time and effort to know what your rights are, as well as the rights of those you are photographing.
Below are a few pointers, but please make sure to learn about the laws where you live before you start snapping.
You can take pictures of an accident scene, just don’t get in the way of emergency services. But you wouldn’t, would you?
What can’t you photograph?
Anything that would make it easier for someone with ulterior motives to achieve their objectives – so nothing to do with the military or power infrastructure for instance. And of course, take into consideration the places where people would expect to have privacy – for instance hospitals and houses.
Remember your equipment can be a safety hazard, so don’t just haul it out and set up.
A lot of the national parks have their own guidelines so please check if you will be taking any photographs using other equipment.
When in doubt, ask!
Also, remember that people will approach you to find out what you are doing. Be prepared to show them and tell them your intentions.
Hand out your business card. Private citizens cannot by law stop you from taking photographs.
Being polite and approachable will go a long way to allay suspicion, especially in the times we live in now.
What Are You Allowed to Photograph on Private Land?
What is private land? All business and public buildings.
Anywhere where people gather, such as theaters, sports stadiums and concerts will have their own regulations and policies need to be checked first.
Shopping malls are private land and no shop is going to allow you to walk in and start photographing what they are selling.
Also, governmental buildings and departments will have strict rules about photographs, so try not to ruffle any feathers otherwise you will be swapping stories with your new cellmates!
Can I Photograph Law Enforcement?
Yes, you can.
Many police officers might be uninformed about the regulations in your state and tell you that you cannot take photographs. Even in stressful situations, police do not have the right to stop you.
Obviously, you would need to use your discretion in these situations so that you do not get in the way.
Can they force you to delete your photographs?
Can they confiscate your equipment?
No and no.
But be calm and respectful especially when things are going down.
Ask what law you are breaking?
They could, of course, ask you to leave – which you might consider unless of course, you miss those cellmates mentioned previously!
Do I Always Need a Model Release?
Many people think you need one no matter who and where you are photographing but that is not true.
It would be impossible to find everybody in a crowd and get them to sign a release. BUT it would be needed if the person you are photographing’s right to privacy has been compromised and if you are going to use their image for commercial use.
Social media sites today encourage people to share photographs. This means that copyright infringement is now a widespread problem.
So how do social media platforms terms and conditions affect your rights when your photos are posted and shared publicly?
Or what if they are shared by someone other than yourself?
Can you use some other photographer’s pictures?
It seems that it would depend on the platform’s terms and conditions.
Let’s look at Facebook – when you place a photo on Facebook, you are granting it the right to use the content you post. But if you are a copyright owner of a photograph posted on Facebook, you do not give up all your property rights.
If you post on Instagram – you need to comply with copyright laws and acknowledge you own the photos you are posting. But, you are also giving Instagram a sublicense (remember Creative Commons) to use the uploaded content.
Check the terms and conditions on any social media platform you use.
In any event, the rules can blur, and it can be easier just to carry on regardless.
If you have any doubts about posting your photographs, using someone else’s photos, rather do some homework first.
The best way forward is always to obtain permission and that works both ways.
Do I Need a Permit for Commercial Photography?
Some locations will ask for a permit and sometimes even proof of insurance, for instance, the California State Parks. Some historical parks also require permits.
If your photography involves sets or props or models, often a permit will be involved. Also remember that if your photography will involve any disruption, a permit may be needed.
This would also be applicable if you needed access when the area is normally closed, or you would like to use a restricted area.
It means that you give others some of the rights that you have to one or more of your photographs.
Let’s use an example.
Maybe someone wants to use your photograph in an issue of a magazine – you can allow that, but you still own the copyright.
There are different licensing packages under Creative Commons, so you have some flexibility with your licensing – you can decide if you will allow commercial use of your photograph or whether you want to be acknowledged in some way for your work.
Who Owns the Copyright Once the Picture Is Taken?
Generally, once you have taken the picture, you own the copyright.
There are exceptions such as the “work for hire” category. This can be when the photographer is an employee hired to take photographs for the employer, such as a photojournalist who works for a newspaper or a photographer who is hired to take photographs for a compilation and has signed a written agreement.
So, a work-for-hire status only applies when you have contractually agreed to it.
While you might own your photograph, there is something called Fair Use.
This means that in a limited way, your photos can be used without gaining your permission. This means they can be used for teaching and research for example.
It is like a service level agreement between two people detailing specifics such as – your name and the name of the client; how much the service will cost; what services have been decided upon; the cancellation policy; what is the expected time-frame for the end product; how the product will be delivered. And most importantly – a notification of copyright.
What Is a Model Release?
This was discussed earlier, but it is good to understand what it is exactly and when it is needed.
This does not mean you are giving up your copyright – you are still the owner.
What Is a Copyright Notice?
This should be included in your portrait agreement.
This can also be given to clients when you are handing over their photographs to remind them of the copyright laws in your country or state. Many clients are unaware of copyright law – you might have to educate them from the beginning.
Nermin Grahovic is a photography enthusiast and photography blogger based in Europe. His images are fun, creative and exciting and his love for travel makes its way into most of his images. Some of his favorite photography genres are portraits, street, landscape, and industrial photography.
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