The War on Photography

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For some time now the words “war on photography” have taken on meaning. There are three fronts in this battle:

  1. public monuments, private buildings, public works of art;
  2. music festivals and concerts;
  3. public perceptions of photography.

The first front is one that could potentially affect us all. Many countries and the EU have considered laws empowering copyright holders or owners to require permission before photographs of their buildings, works or other things freely seen in public can be used commercially. You cannot photograph the Eiffel Tower lit at night without permission if the photos will be used commercially or for profit. Take this example, you go to Paris and take the shot of the tower at night. You post it on social media and your site is chosen to promote some aspect of interest to the social media company, e.g. they highlight your website/blog/theme etc. to show off their site to others. They are legally allowed to do this without notifying you, but it is using your photo to promote their product. So it could be said that your vacation photo was used for commercial reasons.

The second front is music festivals. I wrote to a journalist who had an article about a $365 one day class being offered at a local music festival for photographers. I pointed out that the same festival denies entry to any camera with a detachable lens and that practicing what you learn is therefore impossible. I also pointed out that the festival supports famous photographers to speak about how they got into the business, and guess what, every one of them learned by going to concerts and shooting on their own, unaccredited. The festivals blame the contracts they have with musicians. The musicians for their part have draconian contracts that allow them to use professional photographs of their acts in perpetuity and deny the photographers use of the same photographs except where the musicians allow it. While musicians complain about how their music is stolen and not sufficiently rewarded on the streaming services, they have no qualms to short change photographers in defense of their “image”.

The third front is the perception of photographers. The war on terrorism has made some street photography and certainly photography of Government buildings and officials suspect. Street photographers “skulking “around may just look suspicious enough to some to warrant reporting to authorities, even if they are not acting unlawfully. Funny as it may seem, people’s expectations of privacy is higher when confronted with a camera, in my experience, than when they surf the Internet.

Now the question is should anyone be concerned? On the music scene I fear the battle is lost. On the other two fronts I see this as simply ridiculous. If the photograph is needed for commercial use I would get permission, but as an amateur whose photography may make me a few bucks I will ignore all of this. If someone proposes to use my photograph for commercial purposes and explicitly pays me I will tell them to get the permissions themselves, and when this is done provide them the photo. If I am confronted on the street I will explain what I am doing but I refuse to live in fear of people who find the slightest anomaly suspicious. Otherwise all we may have left to shoot are selfies and flowers, assuming climate change does not kill off the flora and fauna.

Tom Hogan has a similar article:

37 responses

  1. Beautiful post, very informative….


    September 2, 2015 at 2:12 am

  2. Ooh, I wasn’t aware of the Eiffel Tower ruling. My night shots were a little blurry though so I’m in no danger! However, it’s all fairly ridiculous if you ask me.


    September 2, 2015 at 4:02 am

  3. I ran into this issue recently with zoo photos. I read that any images of “their” animals (even though MY taxes and entry fee pay for the zoo and it’s inhabitants) used for commercial purposes would result in a hefty fine! They’re trying to get us and for what? UGH!

    Liked by 1 person

    September 2, 2015 at 6:56 am

    • The cost of ubiquitous photography.


      September 2, 2015 at 7:10 am

      • I still think it’s persecution but I can agree with restrictions on the selfie trends that are getting not only intrusive but dangerous some times.


        September 2, 2015 at 7:11 am

        • Indeed I miss doing concert photography because someone discriminates between types of cameras.


          September 2, 2015 at 7:19 am

          • It’s the same at comic-cons. If the lens comes off or zooms and you aren’t on the media list the big guys with no necks get in your face. Mind you…it hasn’t stopped this ninja much 😉

            Liked by 1 person

            September 2, 2015 at 7:23 am

  4. Nelson

    I was aware of the problem at concert but not the one public building and monument, interesting


    September 2, 2015 at 7:33 am

  5. I found your post most fascinating!
    I think all of these laws are crazy, aside from a photo of another human. I wouldn’t want to be the ‘face of an ad’ unexpectedly. However, if something is in the public view, whether it be building or art, it’s fair game as far as I’m concerned. A photo is not the art in the photo. My photo is MY art work with another art piece possibly in it. I picked the angle, lighting, background.. How is that not MY art now?
    I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but really, if something (not human) is in public view, it’s already open to photography IMHO.
    I guess I have to wait until I’m famous and have a few folks sue me before I learn my lesson! 😉


    September 2, 2015 at 8:19 am

  6. Victor

    Nice post – and something we photographers should keep an eye on.

    The EU – or at least, the bureaucrats in Brussels – looked at the possibility of spreading the ban on ‘Street Photography’, already in place in ( only ) a few of the member countries, across the whole if the Union.

    Many people were upset by the absurdity of this suggestion, and several high-level petitions were raised in protest.

    As a result, the proposal was defeated – and defeated to the extent that there is now pressure on those countries who maintain this ‘ban’ to remove it and allow commonsense to prevail.



    September 2, 2015 at 8:24 am

    • Great news for Europe. Wonder what will happen with Las Vegas sign and some of the monuments in New York.


      September 2, 2015 at 8:38 am

  7. You left out laws that prevent the publication of pictures of people in public places. Such laws have been enacted in France, Denmark, Norway, Hungary, the Provence of Quebec and Germany. In effect, street photography has been outlawed in these countries. Recently a Texas law restricting photography was invalidated by the courts. That law made it a sex felony to photography anyone without their consent and with the intent that anyone be sexually aroused or gratified. That made taking a picture of a pretty girl in public into a crime.


    September 2, 2015 at 11:43 am

    • Yes I did leave out a lot. You have mentioned a few things I was unaware of. None of which makes me happier. The most amusing were the farmers who got a law banning photos of their farms for fear of being accused of animal abuse. Personally I am taking more bug shots.


      September 2, 2015 at 12:18 pm

  8. Public and Royal Parks in the UK are an issue too! I’m covering a music festival this week but then I know some of the organisers and bands. It’s not something I make money from though!


    September 2, 2015 at 4:30 pm

    • My complaint is that concerts here used to allow any camera in, and now only cameras without detachable lenses. You are lucky.

      Liked by 1 person

      September 2, 2015 at 4:49 pm

      • Oh it’s the same at most concerts and festivals here! Of course people can spend several thousand on certain compacts that could produce very high quality images and film. Seeing really bad quality phone images and video bugs me way more as a performer myself! Event coverage is a lot of work but I love working with my fellow creative friends 🙂


        September 2, 2015 at 4:58 pm

  9. This post reminds me of the times I was wandering around Queens and took a couple shots of the some of the interesting structures of a power plant. Seemingly out of nowhere, a security guy slowly drives up behind me, gets out of his truck and stops me. I forget exactly what he said, but it was related to terrorism, no photography allowed, and basically I should just move on and mind my own business. He was actually pretty nice about it, but it was pretty jarring.


    September 2, 2015 at 4:43 pm

    • There are far fewer terrorist incidents than mass shootings, photography won’t make a difference in either.


      September 2, 2015 at 4:51 pm

  10. It’s all so ridiculous. I don’t do concerts or festivals very often but I have managed to sneak a few shots in the past. As for the rest, I think I will just ignore it.


    September 2, 2015 at 4:48 pm

  11. It’s ridiculous to be offended by a street photographer, as ever corner and building have cameras constantly taking our images. All legal or at least accepted to the point where it will never be any different. Google your address and there you are!


    September 2, 2015 at 9:13 pm

  12. Very interesting. I am always concerned that I might be confronted, especially near factories, government buildings even though (at least in the US) you may freely photograph anything you see while standing on public property.


    September 2, 2015 at 10:10 pm

    • I worry too. I think there is over reaction. Staying within the regs, being careful and clear is all we can do.

      Liked by 1 person

      September 2, 2015 at 10:47 pm

  13. A candid street photographer in our town was vilified on social media and even banned for 90 days when someone accused him of surreptitiously taking pics of children in the park pool. Police examined his camera and image cards, even to the point of determining whether there were deleted images and what they were. They found nothing inappropriate, yet the Park Department still banned him from city parks.


    September 2, 2015 at 11:31 pm

  14. Good grief!

    Liked by 1 person

    September 3, 2015 at 7:10 am

  15. Good points! I still photograph whatever I want, but it’s always in the back of my mind someone will be suspicious, although I do look harmless.

    So far none of the birds I’ve photographed have tried to claim copyright.

    Liked by 1 person

    September 4, 2015 at 12:49 pm

  16. Hi Victor,
    The vast majority of my photography is of gigs and music festivals in the UK. Perhaps my situation is a little bit different as I am invariably shooting with the express permission of the festival and the artist. I also normally use my images for editorial content.

    I have come across some restrictions. Some artists ask you to sign a contract stating that images will not be sold, some say no agency photographers and I have even photographed one artist who’s tour manager inspected every image from every photographer.

    I have covered most of the large festivals in the UK and they differ wildly. Download and Reading (both festival republic) ask you to sign a contract stating no selling images and editorial content use only. Glastonbury on the other hand had no restrictions at all (or at least I wasn’t made aware of any).

    Most of the big agencies (500px etc are US owned and insist on model release forms for commercial use, though without a release images can be sold for editorial content.

    It is all terribly confusing and I admit worrying.


    September 22, 2015 at 11:13 am

    • You are very lucky to be able to continue as you are. My biggest beef is with the opportunity to learn (for a fee) but not practice what you learned at the same venue. Which is what one of our festivals was offering. Musicians face a field of Smartphone with flash, but insist that cameras with detachable lenses are a no no. Indeed confusing and weird. Thanks for the comments.

      Liked by 1 person

      September 22, 2015 at 3:33 pm

      • Yeah, that was one crazy situation!! I guess the issue is that with a press pass I am OK. If you attend as an audience member it is a condition of entry that you don’t photograph, video or audio record the show.

        It drives me nuts to see people recording shows on their phones and even on iPads. If I pay to see a show I want to see it with my eyes, not on someones iPad!

        Liked by 1 person

        September 22, 2015 at 4:02 pm

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