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Thread: Photographing private property?

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    neverhood311's Avatar
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    Photographing private property?

    Hypothetically, if someone were to take photos of scenery and landscape which included the private property of another person, (assuming the photographer is not on that property, but on a public road or something) is the photographer required to ask permission from the property owners before selling that photograph? Are there any rules about this in the United States?

  2. #2

    Re: Photographing private property?

    Quote Originally Posted by neverhood311 View Post
    Hypothetically, if someone were to take photos of scenery and landscape which included the private property of another person, (assuming the photographer is not on that property, but on a public road or something) is the photographer required to ask permission from the property owners before selling that photograph? Are there any rules about this in the United States?
    Justin

    The problem with this type of question (legal) is that the situation varies so much between different countries. In the UK you may photography private property if you are standing on a public space, and are not causing harrassment. But in the US, I don't know. It's always best to check with authoritative sources what your rights are.

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    Re: Photographing private property?

    Justin

    Don't know about US law, but from a Scottish perspective I would suggest:

    a) that you are not committing a crime by attempting to photograph private property in the circumstances you suggest
    b) you would be committing a crime if you were doing something illegal (which is rather obvious) such as endangering others or blocking a highway etc - but let's assume you're not intending to do that.
    c) which leaves us with civil action. It would, in my view, be for the complainer to prove that you were either threatening his well-being (perhaps contributing to a breach of security of his property), or were causing him some form of harm by invading his privacy to an unacceptable degree.

    Merely photographing a property that doesn't cause or breach any of the above might annoy someone, but would not provide a strong case for civil action.

    That being said, the reputation of the US, in the UK, is of a very litiguous society, where people are willing to raise actions against others for all sorts of minor reasons (don't worry, the UK is catching up fast).

    Hope this provides some food-for-thought. Other may have alternative opinions and comments to express.

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    Re: Photographing private property?

    . . . and it may be a different situation if you were photographing military or other sensitive locations.

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    Moderator Donald's Avatar
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    Re: Photographing private property?

    Quote Originally Posted by Geoff F View Post
    . . . and it may be a different situation if you were photographing military or other sensitive locations.
    Indeed - once pointed a camera at a government residence in Zanzibar ..... and got a gun pointed at me in return.

    Wouldn't have been a great picture anyway!

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    Re: Photographing private property?

    Hi, Justin;

    The general answer in the US is that you have the right to photograph private property as long as you don't trespass on the property. There's a good discussion by an attorney here. He explains the exceptions, such as defense installations, Department of Energy, etc. And of course, many people, including police, but especially security guard types, will be likely to have their own ideas.

    There was a fairly recent case involving Google Street View, and the legal principle was pretty clearly defined. The lawsuit was recently reinstated, but all claims about privacy were removed. The only claim that's being allowed is about trespass: the Street View driver drove onto a marked private road to get the images. The suit had additional invasion-of-privacy and mental-harm claims, and they were all thrown out.

    One caveat I've repeatedly seen is that there's some sort of "reasonable equipment" or "ordinary equipment" assumption. So if you slap on a 1200mm telephoto, you're over the edge. But I haven't seen that raised in a legal context. I think that's covered by the person's right to privacy in their house: that is, if you're using ISO 12800 with a 1200mm telephoto to get a shot of them in dim light with their curtains open, the claim against you would be that the person had a reasonable expectation of privacy, not the equipment. It would be the same if you caught a really good angle through a crack in some curtains from just outside an apartment building with a compact camera.

    I could imagine a gray area if someone has an 80-acre ranch, and likes to walk around semi-clothed, and you use a long lens and get a shot. But the Google case specifically notes that there's no reasonable expectation of privacy in our satellite-heavy society, and we've all read stories of the finds on Google Earth of topless sunbathers.

    Cheers,
    Rick

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    Re: Photographing private property?

    In my country there are signs which tell if someone has not the right to photograph.
    Success !

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    Re: Photographing private property?

    This sort of subject is discussed at tedious length in some of the other forums on the net. I am not certain in my own mind that something is your 'right' just because it is not specifically stated as an offence in law. The British law, largely and for now at least, credits us with a certain degree of common sense and decency. In other words it expects that we know where to draw the line. A case in point would be the fact that it is not technically illegal for us to photograph other peoples children in a public place. This does not make that activity our god given right. It expects us to show consideration and decency and ask permission if we really feel we must. This should be the case regardless of the irrational paranoia that seems to be gripping certain sections of the population (read as "daily Mail reader"). Another case to point would be a photographer setting up his tripod in front of my house and snapping away. I should not have to take out a civil law suit to expect common decency although I concede that there are people who will stretch this point. It is simply good manners not to encroach on personal space.....regardless of letter of the law.

    If the "I'm a Photographer not a Terrorist" fraternity really want to stop us doing anything reasonable then they just need to keep drawing attention to the areas of the law that allow us self regulated freedoms. If the Government feel that we can no longer practice common sense and decency the WILL legislate. The t-shirt wearers are actually expounding against a restriction that does not exist in law. The fact that these self regulated areas are open to interpretation and varied application is exactly why the authorities have made some highly publicised blunders with members of the public.

    Steve

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    neverhood311's Avatar
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    Re: Photographing private property?

    But if I'm just pulling off to the side of the road and taking a photo of a sunset with a farm in the foreground, I should be fine to sell that photograph, right?

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    Re: Photographing private property?

    Quote Originally Posted by neverhood311 View Post
    But if I'm just pulling off to the side of the road and taking a photo of a sunset with a farm in the foreground, I should be fine to sell that photograph, right?
    Hi, Justin;

    I'll make the obligatory comment that I'm not a lawyer. I'm interested in the law, have had some undergraduate classes, but one thing I learned from all that is that if I'm ever in a legal situation (like getting sued), I'll instantly get a lawyer. But I'll air my opinions anyway.

    You're in a different area here, and I'm sure some of the people who sell photos can give a lot of practical advice. The legal point is that a publisher needs a model release in many situations before publishing a photo. That's where the concept comes from that you can't sell a photo without a release: because publishers won't generally buy without one. It isn't actually illegal to sell a photo that will need a release before publishing, like a studio photo identifably of a person's face, but a publisher would be silly to pay for it without the release, since they'd be opening themselves to liability when publishing.

    I'm not sure where a farmhouse falls here: I suspect that if it's identifiable, you may need a release from the owners.

    Cheers,
    Rick

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    Re: Photographing private property?

    Quote Originally Posted by neverhood311 View Post
    But if I'm just pulling off to the side of the road and taking a photo of a sunset with a farm in the foreground, I should be fine to sell that photograph, right?
    That is my understanding and I follow the rule. If I get permission from the land owner to venture onto the property, it may be valuable for secure a signed property release for photography.

    Here are some examples of photos that I shot from public areas and I have prints of these available for purchase:

    Photographing private property?
    Antique Hit & Miss Engine

    Photographing private property?
    Falling Down

    Photographing private property?
    Silent Sentinel

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    Re: Photographing private property?

    It all depends how much money they have got and the purpose of the photograph; if you photograph a tree and somebody can identify it as their property and have a lot of money, you are not going to be able to sell it.
    If that tree just happens to be in the direction of shot but not the subject I suppose you might get away with it; but personally I find it offencive to dictate what I can remember or record seeing.
    Justice, reasoning and the law are uncomfortable bedfellows, law and money live together very well.

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    Re: Photographing private property?

    Quote Originally Posted by rick55 View Post
    I'm not sure where a farmhouse falls here: I suspect that if it's identifiable, you may need a release from the owners.
    I think this is sticky ground and, although I'm not a lawyer, I can only imagine that what you are proposing to do will be fine. Someone who takes and sells a picture of the Manhatten skyline surely hasn't gone around every office and residential apartment in view asking for written permission to publish their work! It would be wholly impractical.

    What Rick was saying about stalking around with a telephoto lens photographing people in the sanctuary of their own home is slightly different and I agree with it. So if you accidentally snap something that you shouldn't have, such as someone getting undressed through the bedroom window in the said farmhouse, then make sure you get rid of it in Photoshop prior to putting it up for sale!

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    Re: Photographing private property?

    You cannot sell the photograph without a release if the purchaser (stock agency) requires one, however it is possible to sell it without a release if the purchaser has knowledge that you don't own the rights and the agency will acquire for themselves. One of you (the stock agency) will be held liable, so state it in your contract if you wish to be released from a potential lawsuit. More Grey area, certain landmarks, trademarked buildings cannot be photographed at all. You can use an image (such as posting it on your website) without having a release if it is not with the intent of earning a profit, obviously more gray area here.

    Quote Originally Posted by neverhood311 View Post
    But if I'm just pulling off to the side of the road and taking a photo of a sunset with a farm in the foreground, I should be fine to sell that photograph, right?

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    Steaphany's Avatar
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    Re: Photographing private property?

    If that is the case, then no urban city skyline photograph could ever be sold. Just imagine the hundreds or thousands of releases that would need to be secured for every photo of New York, London, or Sydney.

    Lets say some dutiful and diligent photographer decides to do so, how would they ever locate every building owner and building occupant, send each a letter requesting the enclosed release to be signed, and get every one back ? All that would be needed is one person to do no more than ignore the mailing as junk and toss it in the trash to leave the photographer incapable of using that photo.

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    Re: Photographing private property?

    Steaphany,

    Not every building would fall under this rule, I said trademarked buildings. See the attached link for more information.
    http://www.danheller.com/biz-trademarks.html

    Quote Originally Posted by Steaphany View Post
    If that is the case, then no urban city skyline photograph could ever be sold. Just imagine the hundreds or thousands of releases that would need to be secured for every photo of New York, London, or Sydney.

    Lets say some dutiful and diligent photographer decides to do so, how would they ever locate every building owner and building occupant, send each a letter requesting the enclosed release to be signed, and get every one back ? All that would be needed is one person to do no more than ignore the mailing as junk and toss it in the trash to leave the photographer incapable of using that photo.

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    Shadowman's Avatar
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    Re: Photographing private property?

    After everyone reads at least the section on trademarks I think the debate can really begin.
    Quote Originally Posted by Shadowman View Post
    Steaphany,

    Not every building would fall under this rule, I said trademarked buildings. See the attached link for more information.
    http://www.danheller.com/biz-trademarks.html

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    Re: Photographing private property?

    Quote Originally Posted by Shadowman View Post
    After everyone reads at least the section on trademarks I think the debate can really begin.
    Yep. And I wonder how many of us will get mislead... The linked article explains the situation very clearly, but it is the situation in the USA. I for one have NO idea what the rules are in the different European countries, I only know they can differ a lot from one country to the other (small example from a different, but related, situation: are you allowed to photocopy a chapter from a book you borrowed from a friend?)

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    Re: Photographing private property?

    Just as an example. No association between me and the red triangle or Bass, it is just a pub overgrown by trees. It isn't for sale by the way.

    Photographing private property?

    Reading the link provided by Shadowman I do not require a release from anybody, but advertisers or those that would imply some sort of link with the trademark, might do.

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    Shadowman's Avatar
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    Re: Photographing private property?

    Of course you can physically photocopy a chapter from a book but there are laws against doing so, but can copyright enfringement be enforced if the copyright holder has no knowledge of your action?

    Quote Originally Posted by revi View Post
    Yep. And I wonder how many of us will get mislead... The linked article explains the situation very clearly, but it is the situation in the USA. I for one have NO idea what the rules are in the different European countries, I only know they can differ a lot from one country to the other (small example from a different, but related, situation: are you allowed to photocopy a chapter from a book you borrowed from a friend?)

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