What would happen if you take pictures of people walking in the street, exhibit the prints at a gallery and then sell them for prices ranging $20-30K each? Do the people portrayed have any rights to claim for financial compensation? Do they have the legal rights to preclude of exhibiting and selling the prints at a fine art gallery? The answer is no, they can’t ask for financial compensation nor stop you from selling the prints -at least in the U.S.A.- as long as they are sold for editorial use (including fine art prints) and with no commercial purpose (e.g. advertising).
This was the famous case of Philip-Lorca diCorcia, in a dispute involving one of his photographs that was taken as part of a series of portraits of pedestrians where the photographer had set up strobes on a New York City street corner and had photographed people as they walk by, without the subjects being aware that they were photographed. Emo Nussenzweig, an Orthodox Jew (picture on the left) who objected on religious grounds to deCorcia’s exhibitit at a gallery of a photograph taken of him without his permission sued the photographer. Later the judge dismissed the lawsuit, finding that the photograph taken of Nussenzweig on a street is art and it is protected by the First Amendment, that protects pictures taken without commercial purpose. The photographer had the right to sell and profit from the prints and the subject had no rights to claim invasion or financial compensation. See Nussenzweig v. DiCorcia for more information on this case.
Probably many of you already know this case, as it was publicized broadly in the media, given the high profile of the photographer and the implications for the photographic community. I wanted to use it as an example to raise awareness of the implications of the law in our photographic work.
Where can we find information about law affecting photography explained in a way that is easy to read and understand? Thankfully we have Carolyne Wright, a professional photographer and lawyer that is specialized in the legal aspects of photography. Carolyne is an strong advocate of the photographer’s rights and very involved in educating the photographic community.
She runs a very popular blog, PhotoAttorney, about law and photography, a site that I very much recommend given the amount of useful information she shares. She also has written a fantastic book with a collection of topics that cover most of the legal aspects of photography (mostly U.S.A. law). You can purchase a printed book or even download an eBook for a very reasonable price.
Recently Carolyne Wright was interviewed at the Digital Photography Show. You can skip the first part of the podcast if you like to go straight to the interview with Carolyne where she discusses ten questions as examples of misconceptions on photography and law. It is a very interesting interview and I am certain you will guess wrong many of the questions that are discussed as examples -I was wrong in many-. Law is not that intuitive but we need to be aware of it.
New York City to Ease Permit Rules for Capturing City’s Image
How timely. I just posted about the importance of being aware of the law affecting our freedom and rights to take photographs when I read [via Conscientious] the New York Times article about the revision of regulations that will allow amateur photographers and film makers to take pictures in public spaces in New York without having to get insurance or permits. So, now you can go and take pictures in Times Square without being challenged by security officials or needing to get insurance if it happened that you decided to wait – e.g. for the right light – in a location for more than 30 min. Before the revision, more than 30 min in the same spot would have required a permit and insurance for more than 1 million USA dollars. These things puzzle me [article]. Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting (MOFTB) press release.