Your Rights as a Photographer

security.jpgThere’s been some buzz the past couple of days about an incident on a Red Line platform in which a man was told he couldn’t take pictures because of the “9/11 Law.” A transcript of the entire ridiculous exchange between the photog and Metro is available here on BoingBoing. (Metro employees really should refrain from using profanity when addressing transit patrons. Remember, the customer is always right.)

This controversy is not new. It’s happened before. Many, many times. It’s happened about buildings. It’s happened with polling stations. Even LAist decided to get some answers from the man.

Commander Dan Finkelstein, Chief of Transit Police for Metro, told LAist over the phone that there is no such law against photography.

He explained that there are no laws affecting Metro properties regarding personal photography and that being questioned by police is routine, something no more or less than being pulled over for having your tail light out.

So, what CAN you take pictures of in L.A.? Luckily, some lawyerly dude crafted THE PHOTOGRAPHER’S RIGHT, a downloadable PDF that should fold nicely into your camera bag. Did you know that you can legally photograph bridges, residential and commercial buildings, transportation facilities, and law enforcement officers?

Have fun this weekend, artist.

Photo from malingering’s photostream

12 Replies to “Your Rights as a Photographer”

  1. Funny how this issue keeps coming up over and over. It reared its ugly head last about a year ago.

    The print out is good. I keep a copy in my bag. You do need to hope that when you produce it the person you are trying to convince has an open mind and willing to listen.

  2. The thing is, as was evident in the Metro incident, merely asking what law is being broken can quickly be turned into “harassing” the officer/security guard/janitor, and that is against the law. Not that it won’t be thrown out of court the moment the judge hears the facts, but in the meantime the enforcer has gotten their wish of imposing a world of grief upon you. And if 320 complaints of racial profiling in 2007 can be dismissed, just like every case over the last 6 years, I doubt you’re going to get much real-time sympathy from the cops. Yea, they might eventually get around to saying they’re sorry, but only after you get out of jail, assuming you aren’t shot first.

  3. Having your tail light out is illegal. An officer stopping you to talk with you about it is reasonable.

    Taking a picture in public is legal. An officer stopping you to talk with you about it is, um, still reasonable?

    It scares me that this is the logic of the Sherrif’s department.

    Is “suspicious behavior” the new terrorism?

  4. Has anyone noticed that the print out says it was updated November 2006? Have there been any changes to the law since then? I do a lot of photography, but have always avoided places like Downtown because I’m afraid I’m doing something wrong. I’m thinking I’ll have to start.

  5. Amanda, In all the years I’ve been shooting all over the only time I have had a problem is when I was sorta in place I shouldn’t be. My philosophy that has worked so far is do it and beg forgiveness later if some one asks. Am never up to anything other than capturing images and have my card to ID me.

  6. Bottom line, if you’re in a public place, you can take pix all you want, of anything you want. If you’re on private property, its up to the property owner.

    In either case, nobody, sparing a court order or law enforcement, can even threaten to confiscate your camera, or ask for you to delete photos. If private property, than can demand you leave. That is all.

    (there are, however, some public properties that restrict photography, but usually have signs up announcing this).

    That said, the FBI should show up at the door of people who are reported by security as suspicious. Thats their job. The problem are over zealous security guards who waste government resources by calling the FBI at any opportunity.

  7. I had to shoot a site in the Palisades back in ’05. The project was going next to the water reservoir. IIRC, something had just been updated in Congress to protect the water from the terrorists. I was 5 months pregnant–definitely a terrorists, hiking up hills to take a picture of my site. In a 6 minute walk up the hill, 3 different police cars drove by me, slowing down. One stopped and the officer annoyed me for 10 minutes. As I ate lunch inside the restaurant, I had security called on me. He told me I had to put my camera in my car (it was in my bag on the floor).

    Later on, I finally found a worker who’d take up to where the actual project was. He said, “Just don’t take a picture of the reservoir. Terrorists.” Blank stare. Considering it would be behind me, that would be okay. So I snapped my photos and he took me down the hill. I drove around the area to get more photos of my site. The reservoir is in all the photos because you can’t NOT shoot a big white circle next to your 10′ x 20′ lease area. Homeowners called the cops on me again.

    I swear the people in the Palisades were more suspicious than the weirdos in Porter Ranch.

  8. Strange but true; the grounds of the Central Library are owned by Citi National, and any kind of photography is prohibited, including photographs of the Library Tower from the grounds…

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