What laws are there to protect us when taking photos and what are our rights? In this digital world where news doesn’t stop, who has the right to tell us what photos we can take? With smart phones capturing wrong doings, protests and officers breaking laws, can someone tell you to stop capturing these events? This brings up questions to ask what are my rights are. Your First Amendment Rights does cover you in most cases on public property.
Who is a Photographer?
Merriam-Webster defines a photographer as, “a person who takes photographs especially as a job.” I feel that a photographer can be anyone and it does not have to be their job. My own definition of a photographer is, “someone who captures a story or content within a photo that others can view and feel some kind of emotion.”
First Amendment Rights
First ten Amendment Rights are your Bill of Rights and they were created for your protection and cannot be taken away.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
So far no Supreme Court rulings have fully addresses where photographers or photos actually land in the First Amendment, or if the amendment should cover photography. There have been many cases and rulings that have helped build a foundation in the rights of the photographer.
In Texas v. Johnson, 1989, Gregory Johnson was taken to court for a protest against President Reagan and said his First Amendment Rights were violated. The court ruled in his favor that it was symbolic speech. The courts stated, “First Amendment literally forbids the abridgment only of ‘speech’, but we have long recognized that its protection does not end at the spoken or written word…”
A few years later, in 1995, in the ruling of Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian & Bi-Sexual Group, the Supreme Court ruled the following: “To achieve First Amendment protection, a plaintiff must show that he possessed: (1) a message to be communicated: and (2) an audience to receive that message, regardless of the medium in which the message is to be expressed.”
Neither of these two cases dealt with photography, but instead dealt with what should be considered free speech.
In 2009, Chavez v. City of Oakland did deal with photos and media. Raymundo Chavez, a photographer for the Oakland Tribune, was arrested for taking photos of accident on Interstate 880. Chavez was wearing at the time his media pass at the time and was told to stop taking photos, and then was arrested. Chavez stated under his First and Fourth Amendment Rights that he was unlawfully arrested, which had prevented him from covering a news worthy event.
Photography does meet all elements within these rulings, and this means that you are protected.
What is the Difference Between Public and Private Property
Supreme Court rulings and findings that state you’re covered, but somewhere there has to be a line drawn.
Laws state that there are two classes of property which are public and private property.
Public property is defined as the following: “property owned by the government or one of its agencies, divisions, or entities. Commonly a reference to parks, playgrounds, streets, sidewalks, schools, libraries and other property regularly used by the general public.”
As for Private property is defined by: “land not owned by the government or dedicated to public use.”
When in public spaces, a photographer can lawfully take pictures of objects or people who are in plain view. You’re also able to take photos of federal and government-owned buildings, but only from the outside.
Since the Riley v. California Ruling, officers legally cannot view your photos or even videos without a warrant. If for any reason you’re arrested, and your photos are confiscated they cannot go through them or delete anything. If they do the officers can be faced felony charges.
People can be photographed if they are in public, without their consent. Use caution and don’t over step their personal space if they are secluding themselves and give them some reasonable degree of privacy.
Some locations that are considered private property are: homes, professional stadiums, theaters, some museums or exhibits and etc. Which means that the owner or company controls any projection or pictures that are taken. They have the right to restrict and counsel what photography happens on their property.
Other places that follow similar are colleges, universities and other institutions. One reason is for the protection of their students.
In Closing Comments
Now that you have a better understanding of your rights as a photographer. You can go out and take all the pictures you want without breaking any laws. If confronted remember to be respectful and polite when informing them of your rights, use good judgement when doing so. Another idea to help others understand is to keep a couple The Photographer’s Rights in your bag to hand out for them to read. Knowing what your rights are half the battle.