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Photography and Privacy

I tend to do a lot of landscape and cityscape photography and whilst I am out and about, the one thing that is always at the back of my mind, apart from my personal safety is that of privacy. What rights do photographers have?

This week’s blog is looking at the rights of photographers, whether your amateur using a DSLR or iPhone to commercial and professional photographers. I am not going to provide a detailed list of rights as each state and territory within Australia have their own legislation. It would pay to research what legislation the state or territory has that you work/live in and take it from there. Additionally, if you are reading this blog from outside Australia, research what your local jurisdiction has.

As stated on

“Many photographers are fed-up with being treated like perverts. In the last few years things have deteriorated to such an extent that JPG Magazine devoted an entire issue to it in February 2006:

 […] amateur photographers are the documentarians of real life. People with cameras bear witness to the everyday dramas of ordinary people. We capture our world to help us understand it. We are not terrorists. We are not dangerous. And we are certainly not a threat.”

A person’s image is not protected by copyright, though in the occasional case, using a person’s image could be prevented under other laws. Uses of photographs may be defamatory of people in them.

If you have been commissioned to take photographs, I would ensure that check to see if you have the right to do so. Don’t leave it up to someone else, as it may not be done. It may also be wise to alter your client that you may need to seek advice from a legal practitioner. If you have asked somebody to model for you, you should get a “model release” from that person which will allow you (and others) to use that person’s image for purposes which will generally include commercial uses.

Photographers may take more casual shots—for example, photographs of people in the street or at markets, or playing sports. If you know that you might later be using such a photograph commercially, it’s generally a good idea to get a model release from the people you have photographed. If it’s impractical to get the people in your shots to sign model releases, or if they refuse to do so, your ability to use or license the use of the photograph in certain ways might be limited because of the laws discussed above.

It is generally not an invasion of privacy to take another person’s photograph. However, in some circumstances, you may be required to comply with the National Privacy Principles in the Privacy Act 1992 (Cth).

Every time you enter private land, you do so with the common law understanding that you consent to any requirements the property’s owner may impose upon you. So if a property’s owner (or their agent) tells you to cease taking photographs, for whatever reason, then there is nothing you can do about it. Even if an area is freely accessible to the public, a property’s owner has full power of veto over what happens on their land. Reattach that lens-cap and put the camera away (

Although property owners may use reasonable force to evict people, they can never threaten violence (assault), detain you at length (false imprisonment), push you around and seize your camera or film (battery), or even force you to delete digital files (coercion). Common sense dictates however that if someone starts acting aggressive and becoming violet over you taking a photograph, then it is wise to go with the flow, move one or call for assistance. After all no photograph is worth being assaulted.

Here are a few links to stories and sites that you might find interesting on the topic of photography and privacy/rights:

Sydney Morning Herald – Photography Is Not A Crime

Passion for Pixels – Photographers Rights

Arts Law Centre of Australia – Cameras In Public

Arts Law Centre of Australia – Street Photographer’s Rights

Posted by lukepower on 26/07/2012

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