What’s the law?
Photographer shooed from public spot
I was with a group of photographer friends downtown, walking around Chinatown and the surrounding area. I was warned not to photograph a building by the owners' security guard. As long as I am on public property, I thought it was legal to take a photograph of whatever is in sight. What is the law on this?
Answer: According to "The Photographer's Right: Your Rights and Remedies When Stopped or Confronted for Photography," the general rule is that anyone may take photographs of whatever they want when they are in a public place or places where they have permission to take photographs. Absent a specific legal prohibition such as a statute or ordinance, you are legally entitled to take photographs. Examples of places that are traditionally considered public are streets, sidewalks and public parks. Property owners may legally prohibit photography on their premises but have no right to prohibit others from photographing their property from other locations. Whether you need permission from property owners to take photographs while on their premises depends on the circumstances. In most places you may reasonably assume that taking photographs is allowed and that you do not need explicit permission, but this is a judgment call and you should request permission when the circumstances suggest that the owner is likely to object. In any case, when a property owner tells you not to take photographs while on the premises, you are legally obligated to honor the request. There are some exceptions to the rule. A significant one is that commanders of military installations can prohibit photographs of specific areas when they deem it necessary to protect national security. The U.S. Department of Energy can also prohibit photography of designated nuclear facilities, although the publicly visible areas of nuclear facilities are usually not designated as such.
Security is rarely a legitimate reason for restricting photography. Taking a photograph is not a terrorist act, and a business cannot legitimately assert that taking a photograph of a subject in public view infringes on its trade secrets.
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