Despite its appearance, this is not a political article, although with enough prompting, I would be glad to write one. ;) In a bizarre twist of fate, Shepard Fairey, the creator of the iconic “Hope” poster of the then-Senator Obama, was sentenced to 2 years of probation for copyright infringement and tampering with evidence, required to provide 300 hours of community service, and fined $25,000. As part of the civil case settled last year, Fairey was also required to pay the AP news service $1.6 million and 50% of future “Hope” poster profits. During the proceedings, investigators discovered that Fairey had grossly under-represented his profits on sales of “Hope” related items. It seems that “Hope” was based on a completely false premise – that Fairey had NOT infringed upon the rights of others. Another reminder that some things are not what they appear to be…
To start out on a positive note, let me say that I think the story of Pinterest is inspiring. It is tempting to believe that many of the simpler ideas associated with innovation have been thought of, and only very complex, time consuming, expensive initiatives can break new ground. Along comes Pinterest, offering an extremely simple idea – providing the electronic paradigm of a corkboard with photos, recipes, and other notes that people want to keep handy and visible, and giving them the opportunity to link to those of others. If anyone doubts that there is always a simple, yet powerful idea lurking around the corner, look no further than Pinterest.
Pinterest is turning out to be a great opportunity for small and large businesses to gain exposure and increase sales. Other blog and news sites, such as Mansurovs, are garnering additional traffic as a result of people pinning its articles to various photography boards. Many entrepreneurs are developing social networking and marketing strategies based on Pinterest. I believe that Facebook and Google+ are likely scrambling to emulate more of Pinterest’s capabilities, lest they find themselves being marginalized. Pinterest’s user base has exploded over the last few years, so it is clearly gaining momentum and has captured the latest buzz within the internet community.
Photographers spend a good bit of time, money, and energy on craft and their equipment. This same focus, however, rarely extends to the investment of time necessary to understand their legal rights and obligations. Why? Investigating legal matters can often be less exciting than watching paint dry, eating plain yogurt, or listening to a State of the Union speech! It is far more engaging to have a raucous debate regarding the resolution of the Nikon D800 vs. the Canon 5D MKIII, zoom into the first full size RAW samples from the D4, or dig into the details of some other photography minutia! Well, at least for some…
It is important for you to take some time to understand the legal aspects of photography, however, since if you are engaged in the field for any appreciable length of time (particularly in the area of photojournalism), you will eventually encounter a potential legal situation. The purpose of this article is to offer some tips and guidelines that may help you better understand and deal with common issues related to your rights. All of my comments are strictly from the perspective of United States law. Since I am not a lawyer, I cannot offer legal advice (at least not legally!). Should you find yourself in a situation that calls for legal advice, attempt to find a reputable attorney (preferably recommended from a fellow photographer or organization such as the ASMP) that routinely deals with such issues.
1) Lack of Understanding Galore
The main concern is the amount of misunderstanding regarding these issues. This applies equally to photographers, those they take pictures of, police officers and others that enforce the laws, and those that manage content, such as newspapers, magazines, and websites. Even those managing photo contests may not have the necessary depth of knowledge. This can produce quite a bit of confusion, confrontations, and unnecessary strife. 9/11 only aggravated this situation, with some in law enforcement becoming increasingly suspicious of those with professional camera equipment.
2) What Can You Photograph While on Public Land?
Just about anything and anyone, and you don’t need permission. If you are standing on a public sidewalk, and spy Madonna walking into Starbucks, you are free to take her photo. If you shopping in LA, and observe the police busting Alec Baldwin for impersonating an actor, you are free to photograph Baldwin and the police arresting him, assuming you are doing so from public property. If you encounter an accident scene, there are no restrictions to your taking photos of the scene, the people involved, the EMTs, and police officers.