This is not a comprehensive discussion, the subject is too wide, but he subject keeps appearing in the news and on professional camera forums like Nikonians.org so I thought I would post links to various sites that have information and then make my own comments on them. Before we get started, it must be noted that there is no case that has gone through the judicial system that applies at a federal level to all people. The matter of fact is that the digital life has progressed faster than the laws have and most laws at a local level are reactions to local events or reactions to the infamous "I heard about it on the Internet".Also, I am not a lawyer and nothing here should be taken as legal advice. These are merely references and comments on those references.
Also, Being "in the Right" doesn't mean taking the photo is the right thing to do. Generally speaking, if somebody asks a photographer to not take a photo, they don't (wives and kids excepted - grins). Generally, even if a permission to use form or release was signed, if the person asks for a photo to be removed from a site, any good professional photographer will remove the photo.
Also be aware that the right to take a photo does NOT mean you have the right to use the photo. I am currently working on a book and every photo I have taken has a release or permit to use form for it. For any photos taken with a view to using them in the book, if I can't get a signature, I don't take the photo. One older gentleman (95) looked me in the eye and asked, "Isn't my word good enough for you?" I told it sure was but the people I wold be working with wouldn't take my word. It has been problematic at times on that project as most of the property owners are older and lived in an age where a handshake was your word and that was all you needed, legal documents and contracts are seen with a degree of distrust. Generally, you don not have to have a release form for photos to be used for news and commentary purposes.
1) http://www.krages.com/phoright.htm An excellent reference with a downloadable document. This is one of the most widely known and cited references. Every photographer should have a printed copy of this in their camera kit. Take note of the restriction "You may distribute the guide to others, provided that such distribution is not done for commercial gain and credit is given to the author" The author is Bert Krages II. Also, note that he is a lawyer from Oregon and as noted above, what he says does not necessarily apply everywhere. There are no national precedents yet that I can find.
2) http://content.photojojo.com/tips/legal-rights-of-photographers/ Comments: Commandment 2 - Remember that being able to take the picture doesn't mean you can print it or publish it. You may be able to take a photo of a man cutting his grass but that does not mean you can use it without his permission in a book on"Men cutting their Grass". // Commandment 5 - This can be subjective. Exercise caution. // Commandment 8 - You may not have to explain what you are doing but it sure looks odd if you don't. I will discuss this further with a news story. I highly recommend explaining what you are doing in a courteous manner. An attitude will get you nowhere fast.
3) Andrew Kantor http://www.usatoday.com/tech/columnist/andrewkantor/2005-12-29-camera-laws_x.htm Comment - An excellent article with many valuable links. Check them out. (http://www.rcfp.org/pullouts/photographers/index.php)
NOW - WHY ALL THESE RIGHTS HAE TO BE TAKEN WITH A GRAIN OF SALT so to speak.
The following are news stories concerning photographers and the issues they have run into. They may not have the right to take your camera and you may be reluctant to let some rent-a-cop take your photo kit worth several thousands of dollars (sit down some day and add up what you have spent it may surprise you.)
A) New York Times Oct 18, 2010 http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/10/18/you-can-photograph-that-federal-building/?ref=todayspaper Unfortunately, it didn't go through the courts to make a precedence, it only resulted in a settlement.
B) Copy of the Settlement http://www.scribd.com/full/39623305?access_key=key-21nlcq8q54dwdoa8ofbr
C) New York Times http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/01/27/see-officer-i-can-too-take-that-picture/
NOW A POST THAT ERRONEOUS REPORTED A MAN ARRESTED FOR TAKING A PHOTOGRAPH
D) http://www.wsvn.com/news/articles/local/21003309015872/#?hpt=T2 Comment - First he was taking photos in a sensitive area of the airport including restricted areas. You can't do that! Next, he remained silent when questioned. See my comments about about not having to explain what you are doing. Silence here is dumb. Explain courteously. Also, he acted suspiciously and became evasive. A big no-no. My comment? This guy deserved what he got. I would have arrested him if I was law enforcement. He didn't get arrested for taking a photo, he was arrested for acting suspiciously and refusing to answer questions.
E) Banned for Life From Miami Metro http://verystretchy.com/blog/2010.07.01/banned-from-metro/ Comment: He had permission from the Chief of Safety and Security but the workers didn't want to hear or read it. Watch the videos. Quote from the Chief of Security, "He explained that while commercial photography on Metrorail property is prohibited without a permit, there is no such prohibition against photography that is personal, journalistic, or, in his words, “Johnny Tourist” photography. When I asked him how his officers distinguish between commercial photography and personal photography, he said, “If you tell us that you’re not using the pictures for commercial work and they’re (for) personal use, at that point in time the security officers, and/or the MDT representative should feel that his question is answered and at that point you’re free to take pictures until the next train comes or whatever.”Shame that isn't what happened.
F) Miami-Dad Metrorail Update http://stretchphotography.com/blog/2010.11.20/metrorail-update/#more-399
G) National Press Photographers Association http://nppa.org/news_and_events/news/2010/07/miami.html
H) New York Clarifies Guidlelines http://www.nikonians.org/forums/dcboard.php?az=set_threaded_mode&forum=190&topic_id=62216&prev_page=show_topic&gid=62216#62311
I) Story from a friend on professional photography forum - "I just got lit upon by a police officer and a bailiff in Raleigh, NC, last week for taking photos of the Wake County Courthouse. It seems that it was a suspicious act on my part! These people actually saw me taking photos outside the building while they were inside. They came running out of the courthouse to confront me. The cop made me delete the photos I took. Fortunately, she didn't know that I had taken others from a different angle, and I kept them (and am posting one now because I guess I am rebel). When she asked me what I was doing and why, I said, "Taking pictures. Because I want to."It seems that wasn't the proper response. But, to be fair to her, she did have a sense of humor. When I asked if I could take a photo of the Federal Building, she said that she wouldn't--she said they have snipers posted on the roof, just waiting for photographers. I THINK she was kidding."
All in all, the legal status of photography is fuzzy gray at best. As I said at the top, there is no federal statute yet. Until somebody with enough fortitude and money is willing to get arrested and push it to the federal courts, there will be no definitive answer for everybody.
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