Privacy and Other Laws in Terms of Photography

How many times do we actually think before taking photographs in public places? Does the privacy law protect the people on the street? When do we explicitly have to take permission? What about the model release and property release, when is it necessary? Do photographers have rights? To be very frank most of the times, I get these questions, as after thoughts. Until now, I have never tried to dig deep into this subject. As per my tutor’s suggestion, I decided to research on this aspect. This article is based on the information available on the public domain and a few discussions with professional photographers. However, this article is not to be taken as a legal guideline on these matters.

Everybody who owns a camera, everywhere in the world, commonly practices photography. However, there are no standard laws, which define the boundaries for photographers. The laws are country or region specific. It appears that at the moment North America and some parts of Europe have the most clearly defined laws to protect photographers and the people (subjects) being photographed. As it is this is a vast topic, and is open to endless discussion. I am presenting this article in two parts. Part I covers the worldwide point of view and the part II is oriented towards the Singapore / South East Asia specific laws.

Part I: Worldwide point of view

Let me try to put this in simple language.  The rules that protect the photography are copyrights or the moral rights. On the other hand, photographers are prohibited or restricted to publish certain photographs; this is to protect interests of different people. These rules fall under privacy laws. Let me explain this with an example. I don’t like to post my kids photograph on any social media website. Now, I go to a party and the host takes some photos and later shares it on some social media. The host is a friend and has no ill intentions. However, unknowingly he has violated the privacy law. I have a right to ask the friend to remove the photographs (only of my kids or me). No one goes to an extended of suing a friend for such a small issue. But, under the privacy law, I have a legal right here. In fact, for that matter in many countries taking photographs in public places that include children is prohibited, unless parents’ permission is obtained. This reminds me the image; I had clicked for the assignment 3 (Click here). I did take the parent’s permission, but it was verbal. This holds no value, in case of any dispute. I should have asked them to sign a model release.

For that matter, if you plan to get attached to any stock image gallery then it is advisable that you start getting organized with your model and property release permissions. As most of the stock galleries/publications would not accept any image for the commercial use, unless it has properly signed permissions.

Now let me lead you to a website “Photo Attorney”. I feel this website is quite reliable. It sums up many of the doubt we may have. However, it is oriented towards the laws in US. One very relevant question answered on this site is, “Is there a Statute of Limitations for Use of Photos of Persons … (n.d.). Retrieved from (accessed on 28/04/2012)

It is simple; first determine what is the purpose of the photograph. If one is a hobbyist photographer, then the permission to photograph in public places will not be that important. However, if the photograph is meant for commercial purpose then explicit permission is required. The term public places can also be slightly confusing. Normally a shopping mall or a restaurant is a public place. However, at times you might be required to take permission, as technically speaking these places are private places, which are open to public. Now, in a normal scenario there will be no objection to taking photographs here, but if the photograph is going to be used commercially, the owner of the building might have objection. Hence, it is better to take written permission, a signed property release form. As the building’s exteriors and interiors, are covered under the property law.

On the forum of the Digital photo school website, “NaturesPixel” has put together the following “List of links to Photographers rights” around the world. Read more: (accessed on 3 May 2012)

Unfortunately, there are no universal laws, and there is a lack of trusted common resource; hence most of the photographers are unaware of the laws and their rights. This means we may find ourselves in a situation like below. (accessed on 1st May 2012). I wish I could find out what happened at the end. Did the UK police finally allow him to take the photograph? Now other than access to the place there can be another problem here. Imagine a scenario, we make a photograph in a public place like this. Unknowingly in the background we have captured some brand name/logo. Now we used this photo for some commercial purpose. The company, whose logo or name has been captured, has a legal right to stop us from using the photograph or ask for the compensation. Hence, it is photographers’ responsibility to avoid such conflicts by using a thoughtful composition or prior written permission.

I have found (below mentioned) 3 websites that look reliable to source the information on topics like above. The first link is for the United Nations agency dedicated to the use of intellectual property (patents, copyright, trademarks, designs, etc.) as a means of stimulating innovation and creativity. (Accessed on 29th May 2012)

Below mentioned 2 links belong to the people who are legally qualified and would know the laws better.

Carolyn E. Wright is full-time attorney whose practice is aimed squarely at the legal needs of photographers.  Carolyn… (Accessed on 29th May 2012)

Bert Krages is an attorney who concentrates on intellectual property and environmental law. He is recognized …. (Accessed on 29th May 2012)

Part II: Singapore / South East Asia specific laws

It’s a very common site to see people with various sizes of cameras on the streets of South East Asia. However, I found it extremely difficult to find any reliable source that mentions the laws to protect the interests of photographers’ and the people that are being photographed. However, there is some information available about copyright and intellectual property laws on this official website Still there are many unanswered questions, which come to my mind after reading the information available on the link provided above. See the section 12.1.4 (Duration of Copyright), 12.1.5 and (Ownership of Copyright) and 12.1.6

When it comes to the photographers’ rights on the streets, I found the information provided below very useful (click on the links), in some respect it addresses the issue. Please note, the following links do not express any legal practitioner’s views therefore, it should be treated as information and not as reliable legal source. Nevertheless, they do provide some direction in this matter.

A Foreword on Legal Discussions…. (Accessed on 2nd May 2012)

Is it Legal to shoot building……. (Accessed on 2nd May 2012)

Legal Issues on Photography in Public and Private… (Accessed on 2nd May 2012)

Photography Rules/Laws…. (Accessed on 2nd May 2012)

At times while shooting in the public places one needs to be aware of the public, cultural and religious sentiments. For example (as per my experience), people on the streets of India, Cambodia, Thailand and Indonesia are very open to being clicked, at times they would even pose for you. However, I found people in Hong Kong and Malaysia very reserved and not willing to be photographed. There are some sensitive occasions when you must restrain form-taking photos or definitely ask for permission before clicking. For example, people bathing in public places, death ceremonies, prayers in a public place etc.


2 thoughts on “Privacy and Other Laws in Terms of Photography

    • Thanks for the comment. I will surely add new posts as per the course requirements. Please let me know, if you are looking at any particular topic.

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