Don't Shoot in the Dark
A Risk Management Guide for Self-Employed Photographers and Videographers

Chapter 3: Tips for Growing Your Small Photography / Videography Business
Part 1: Photographers and Videographers: Know Your Legal Rights

One great way to protect your photography or videography business is to understand your legal rights. This is particularly important to artists and freelance photo- and video-journalists whose work takes them into public spaces to shoot.

Unfortunately, it's not uncommon for artists and journalists to be illegally harassed while trying to do their job. The American Civil Liberties Union New browser window icon. (ACLU) encourages photographers and videographers to "Know Your Rights New browser window icon." by gathering resources on their website. Below, we outline some of the ACLU's advice:

  • Public Spaces. As long as you are "lawfully present" in a public space, you have the right to photograph anything "in plain view." Public space includes parks, sidewalks, and commercial buildings. You can photograph people, even without their consent, as long as they aren't trying to give themselves "a reasonable degree of privacy." For example, you can photograph a man reading on a park bench, but you can't take a photograph of him entering his PIN into an ATM. You can also record buildings and public events — just so long as you are not disrupting "legitimate law enforcement" or getting in the way of, say, a fire rescue.
  • Private Property. When you are shooting on private property, you must follow the rules of the property owner. For example, if you are shooting a wedding at an apple orchard and the property owner says you are not allowed to shoot near the young trees, then don't do it. If you do break rules, the property owner has the right to banish you from the apple orchard. If you refuse to leave, you could even be arrested for trespassing. However, if you are on public property, you can photograph private property. For example, you could photograph a house from the sidewalk.
  • Police Officers. Authority figures do not have the right to confiscate your equipment, view your photos, or delete your photos unless there is real probable cause to do so.
  • Other Laws. Just because you have a camera doesn't mean you can break other laws. For example, if you want to take a photograph on someone's private property and don't get permission first, you can still be charged with trespassing.

Videographers should be aware that there are certain "legal distinctions" between photographic record, which is fully protected, and the audio part of your video. According to the ACLU, some states have attempted to regulate audio under state wiretapping laws.

For example, in states with wiretapping laws, audio recording a police officer is almost always illegal. In some states, you may need consent of one or more parties before recording a conversation. Be sure to check out the ACLU website New browser window icon. for more information.

There are many free-speech-rights resources available online, but we found "<a title="The Photographer's Right: Your Rights and Remedies When Stopped or Confronted for Photography |" href="" target="_blank">The Photographer's Right [PDF] New browser window icon.," a printable pamphlet produced by attorney Bert P. Krages II, to be among the most helpful.

Next: Part 2: Should You Become a Certified Professional Photographer?

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