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Is Street Photography Legal?

Trolley-New-Orleans-1320x865An interesting article in the Art Law Journal discusses the legality of street photography. The full article can be read here.

Since the birth of street photography, there has been a clash between the photographers prowling the streets trying to capture the lives of ordinary people to turn them into works of art, and the subjects of those photos who feel violated by the unauthorized use of their likeness.  In fact, the development of right to privacy laws began over fears that “yellow journalists” might abuse the newly developed handheld camera for sensationalist news reports. From the street photographers’ perspective, privacy should not inhibit their freedom of expression.  From the legal perspective then, street photography is about balancing a photographer’s First Amendment freedom of expression against a person’s right to privacy.  To complicate matters further, there are several other legal doctrines that impact the outcome of the expression vs. privacy battle, such as national security, trespassing, harassment, or even governmental regulations.

The result of these conflicting elements is confusion among street photographers and the general public regarding what is permissible under the law. There is even more disparity on the ethics of publishing photos of strangers without their consent.  Yet, street photographers need some guidance.  While it may be effective to download a reference to carry around, containing a synopsis of your right regarding street photography such as in The Photographer’s Rights by attorney Bert P. Krages II, (which I encourage you to download and put into your camera bag), it also helps to understand the underlying reasoning behind these laws so you can should be able to tease out potential outcomes of your actions, without wasting time referring to a rule book.

Freedom of Expression vs. The Right to Privacy

Article by Steve Schlackman

As a photographer and Patent Attorney with a background in marketing, Steve has a unique perspective on art and law. Should you have any questions on Intellectual Property contact him at steve@orangenius.com. His photography can be seen online at Fotofilosophy.com or on display at the Emmanuel Fremin Gallery in New York City.

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