Can I Get in Trouble for Taking a Picture?

We had a great question on Twitter yesterday. Teetzelk wanted to know, what the legalities of photographing in public are?

Everyone has a camera. If not a digital, than an old 35mm, or a camera on their cell phone. But can you get in trouble for snapping a shot of someone else without their permission?

Generally, the answer is no. If you are on public property you can photograph just about anything that you like, even private property. But, the owner of private property can keep you from taking photos while on his property. Private property includes offices, people’s homes, and any area not open to the general public.

You can legally take photos of anyone that does not have a “reasonable expectation of privacy.” A reasonable expectation of privacy is exactly what it sounds like. Don’t take photos of someone in the bathroom, inside their house, or in compromising positions (unless you get their permission first).

Legal issues usually arise is in the use of the photos. If you are taking photos for artistic, editorial, informational or educational purposes, you are probably good to go. But trouble comes in when you are taking photos to be used in a mean-spirited way, or to make money.

It is unlikely that you will face criminal charges for the use of a photo, but you could be sued by the person who is the subject of the photo. The most common civil suits in Michigan relating to photography are:

Private facts: the photo shows private facts about a person that a reasonable person would not want the public to know and is of no concern to the public.

False light: the photo portrays something in a light different than what was actually occurring.

Misappropriation: the person who took the photo is making money from it and they didn’t get permission or a release from the subject of the photo.

Libel: publishing a photo to harm someone’s reputation.

Also, make sure you are not trespassing. You cannot go onto private property to take a photo, but you can stand on public property to take a photo of private property. If you’re not supposed to be somewhere, or the owner tells you to leave, you better get out. Trespassing is a crime and could land you in jail for up to 93 days.

Dan actually told us a story yesterday about a client who had their camera taken away by police for photographing people on a Michigan beach. Dan was able to get all of the photography equipment back as well as have the charges dropped. This is because the person was doing NOTHING illegal. So make sure you know the law because not everyone does!

Still have questions about using photos? Call Ambrose Law Group at 248-624-5500.

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1 Comment

Filed under Photography

One response to “Can I Get in Trouble for Taking a Picture?

  1. Informative post–thanks for the information.

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