Original Article by Jon Arnold on Camera Sim.
Battle at the Alamo
Last week I visited the Alamo in San Antonio Texas. When I took a picture inside one of the old buildings, I was immediately reprimanded by a docent who told me that photography was not allowed. I asked what would happen if I chose to ignore that rule, and he said he’d call security and have me forcibly removed from the premises. Sheesh. Take a pill, dude.
A paranoid store owner
A couple months ago, I was walking downtown in Palm Springs California, where I saw a fellow pedestrian admiring some dishes displayed inside a storefront window. He took out his camera, snapped a photo, and the shop door flew open. “Hey! My dishes are copyrighted, and you can’t take pictures of them!” said the man who I assumed to be the storeowner. The flustered pedestrian apologized and quickly put away his camera.
Overzealous security guards
A couple years ago, while strolling downtown Indianapolis Indiana, and taking shots of building exteriors, I was stopped by a security guard who demanded to know who I was, what I was doing, and then informed me that he needed to inspect my photos. Though he didn’t use these words, I very much felt “detained” and “released.”
One more: A few years ago, I was taking photos of some friends as we walked through a shopping mall. Not only was I stopped and questioned by security, they told me I had to delete the photos I had been taking. Not knowing I had a choice, I naively complied.
Now, let those stories sink in for a second: Forcible removals from public places. Harassment from store owners. Detention by security guards. Intimidation to delete one’s data.
And for what? Causing a disturbance? Endangering the public? Damaging property?
Nope. Just taking a photo.
Taking…a photo. (No matter how many times I repeat it to myself, I can’t make it make sense.)
So what does the law say?
I’m no legal expert, but the internet research I’ve done so far on this topic reveals the following:
The shop owner who scolded the guy for taking photos of his precious plates was completely out of line. No one – not storeowners or even the police – can prevent you from taking photos of whatever you want from a public place. Regarding the storeowner’s copyright cry, yes, there are laws against publishing photos of copyrighted works, not taking photos for private use.
The security guard who stopped me while I was taking photos of downtown Indianapolis was just doing his job by being paranoid. But he wasn’t a police officer, so I had no legal obligation to give him any information, to let him detained me, or show my photos to him.
The security guard at the mall also had no right to detain me, and certainly no right to make me delete my photos (apparently, even the police need a court order to do that.) Even though a shopping mall is private property, it’s open to the public so most private property rules go out the window. The photos I took that day were nothing special, but I am still filled with regret for letting a mall cop bend me over like that.
I’m not sure about the Alamo situation, and museums in general seem to be a big “grey area.” Are they private or public property? Do they have a legal right to ban photography? I don’t know, but I’m going to find out.
Photographers’ rights can unfortunately be a murky and contentious issue, and I recognize that common sense and decency play as big of a role as any law. Anyone can take photos of kids at a public playground without getting their parents’ permission, for example. Illegal? No. Creepy? Yes…don’t do it.
My point here, dear reader, is that you educate yourself on what you can and can’t do with your camera. Not every battle is worth fighting, but how you exercise or forgo your civil liberties should be an informed choice that you make, not a rent-a-cop.
What about you? Have you ever been unfairly harassed for taking photos? What about all you folks from outside the US?…what are the photography laws in your country?