Photographer’s Rights – Australia

In Australia, there is currently no legal rights that protects an individual’s from been photographed. Therefore, a person in the Australian society does not have a right to privacy and can be photographed without consent. The right to take photographs does not contravene any case law or statues and also does not constitute an invasion of personal privacy.  However, Common law doctrines such as nuisance, trespassing, defamation, offensive behavior, and infringement of rights can still apply and impose onus of proof on the photographer.


"A person, in our society, does not have a right not to be photographed."

Justice John Dowd in R v Sotheren (2001) NSWSC 204


Public vs Private Property

There are no legal restrictions on taking photographs at public places in Australia and Photographers are encouraged to take photographs of the general public. In addition, there is no restriction on taking photographs of people on private property from a public property. (According to Victoria Park Racing and Recreation Grounds Co Ltd v Taylor (1937) there is no freedom from view, so people who are photographed on their property from a public location have no legal claim against you if what is captured in the photograph can be seen from the street. ) When taking photographs on private property, it is essential for the photographer to ensure he/she has permission for entry and photographing on private land. Otherwise, it may constitute trespass of land and Photography may be prohibited or restricted within that property.


Criminal Offence

·         Summary Offences Act 1988 (NSW)

·         Crimes Act 1900 (NSW)

·         Surveillance Devices Act 1999 (Vic) & Surveillance Devices Act 1998 (WA)

There are a number of existing criminal laws that address the taking and use of unauthorised images for offensive purposes. Some of these include:

  • use of surveillance devices to record a ‘private activity’ without consent;[1]

  • filming for indecent purposes;[2]

  • making an image of a child engaged in a private act for prurient purposes;[3]

  • making indecent visual images of a child under the age of 16;[4]

  • committing indecent or offensive acts in a public place;[5]

  • child pornography offences;[6] and

  • using a telecommunications network or carriage service to facilitate certain offences.[7]


Commercial Use

Commercial use is commonly defined as use that is intended for commercial gain, which includes any commercial, promotional, advertising and merchandising purposes.

There are no law imposed on personal use of photographs, but it is necessary to obtain authorization for photographs that will be used for a commercial purpose. A Model Release form should be signed by the subjects to ensure appropriate authorization will be provided for the photographer.

I have included samples of Model Release Forms for both Adult and Minor, note that it does not necessarily address all legal issues or requirements of the photographer. Please download a model release form that best suit to your needs.

Getty Images Model Release Form

(Here is what I use for the authorization of my photos to grant permission to Sell on Getty Images)


Government Property and Famous Landmarks

It is generally permitted to take and publish photographs of buildings, landmarks, sculptures and other craftsmanship: (Copyright Act 1968 (Cth))

However, photography for commercial use is restricted in some areas by councils or authorities:

  •  Sydney Foreshore Area such as Darling Habour, Circular Quay, the Rocks and Luna Park (Sydney Habour Foreshore Authority Regulation 2006 (NSW))

  • Sydney Olympic Park prohibiting the use for commercial purposes and causing annoyance/inconvenience to others. (Sydney Olympic Park Regulation 2001)

  • Other areas that may raise public concerns: swimming pools, beaches, parks, cemeteries, etc. It is advisory for the photographer to check the relevant authority’s website beforehand.

Government may impose restrictions on certain government properties such as railway, power stations and military areas. It is illegal to trespass these areas and may lead to prosecutions.  You should always check the relevant regulations for a location that you are not sure about.


Police Enforcement

Police Officers in Australia are generally friendly and do not mind their photos taken. However, when Police Officers are duty to conduct a mission then any intervention/interference to their duty should be prevented thus do not take Photos when officers are carrying out their duties.

When there is unnecessary physical conduct by the police that is unacceptable and/or unreasonable, there is always an option to file a complaint to the NSW Police Commission. Before a photographer files a complaint to the Police Commission, it is suggested to get all the details of the Police Officer/s that you are going to make a complaint along with plenty of evidence for the assault. For example, the identification number and full name from the Police Officer/s along with photos/videos/sounds recorded at the scene.

Here is the NSW Police Commission Complaint page:

In the case that Photographers is approached by the Police and the Police may ask for personal identification. However, in NSW that Photographer does not have to comply with this request excepted in the case of:

  • where you are in lawful custody, or the police suspect on reasonable grounds that you may assist in the investigation of an indictable offence (Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002 (NSW))


Power to Search and Detain

Under the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002 (NSW), the Police do not have powers to stop, search and detain a Photographer without a warrant unless they suspect on reasonable grounds that:

  • you have in your possession or under your control anything stolen or unlawfully obtained, or to be used in connection with the commission of a relevant offence; or

  • you have in your possession or under your control in a public place a dangerous article that is being or was used in connection with the commission of a relevant offence.

Power of Seizure: Photographic Equipments

Under the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002 (NSW), the Police do not have powers to seize and detain property without a warrant unless they suspect on reasonable grounds that the property:

  • is stolen or otherwise unlawfully obtained; or

  • may provide evidence of a commission of a relevant offence; or

  • is a dangerous article; or

  • is a prohibited plant or prohibited drug under the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act 1985.





[1] See, eg, Surveillance Devices Act 1999 (Vic) ss 6–7; Surveillance Devices Act 2000 (NT) s 5; Surveillance Devices Act 1998 (WA) ss 5–6. Not all of the surveillance devices legislation in Australia, however, has a general prohibition on the use of surveillance devices without authorisation or consent: see, eg, in South Australia the prohibition is limited to listening devices:Listening and Surveillance Devices Act 1972 (SA) s 4.

[2] See, eg, Summary Offences Act 1988 (NSW) pt 3B. In some jurisdictions, however, the offence only applies where the indecent material is produced for the purpose of sale: see, eg, Summary Offences Act 1953 (Qld) pt 7.

[3] See, eg, Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 (SA) s 63B.

[4] See, eg, Criminal Code (Qld) s 210(1)(f)

[5]See, eg, Ibid s 227(1); Summary Offences Act 1988 (NSW) s 4; Police Offences Act 1935 (Tas) s 13.

[6] See, eg, Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) pt 1 div 13; Criminal Code Act 1924 (Tas) ss 130–130G.

[7]See, eg, Criminal Code (Cth) s 474.14 (using a telecommunications network to commit a serious offence); s 474.17 (using a carriage service to menace, harass or cause offence); ss 474.19–474.20 (using a carriage service to intentionally access, transmit or make available child pornography material); ss 474.22–474.23 (using a carriage service to intentionally access, transmit or make available child abuse material).

Photographer's Rights - United Kingdom (UK)

General Rule

Photographers are permitted to take photographs in public places with some restrictions on certain locations.However, there are two public places in London that prohibits photography to be taken for commercial purposes:

1. Trafalgar Square

2. Parliament Square

Prior written consent would be required from the Greater London Authority for Commercial Photography in the two locations and a significant fee will be payable.


Private Property

In order to take photographs on private property, it is necessary for the photographer to obtain permission from the property owner prior to enter. Any person enters onto private property without prior consent will be liable for trespass. 

  • In England and Wales, unauthorized entry into any privately owned property or structure will constitute a trespass, regardless of whether damages are imposed on the property.  
  • In Scotland, the same unauthorized act will also commit a trespass but damages can only claimed if actual damages have been caused. 

However, there are certain rights provided to the general public for access into designated areas:

  • In England and Wales, certain areas of open country and coastline can be access by the public(Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000) 
  • In Scotland, there is a much wider right of access to all land, inland waterways and foreshores for public activities. (Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003)


Legal Restrictions


Law Courts

It is a criminal offence to take any photographs in the court of proceedings and this can be seen as a serious offence.



Photographs of Children cannot be used for pornography purposes (Protection of Children Act 1978) but taking photographs of children in public areas are permitted.



Photographs of members of the military or national security forces are not allowed to be published to prevent any act of terrorism. (Counter-Terrorism Act 2008) 

It is also an offence under section 58 of the Terrorism Act 2000  to take photographs that are likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism. 

58 Collection of information.

(1) A person commits an offence if—

(a) he collects or makes a record of information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism, or

(b) he possesses a document or record containing information of that kind.

(2) In this section “record” includes a photographic or electronic record.

The photograph must contain information of such a nature to raise a reasonable suspicion that it was intended to be used to assist in the preparation or commission of an act of terrorism


The Criminal Penalty for this Offence is severe:

 (4) A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable—

(a) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years, to a fine or to both,  or

(b) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum or to both.


Nevertheless, Section 58A of the Terrorism Act 2000 provides a defense of acting with a reasonable excuse but the onus of proof is required. 

58A Eliciting, publishing or communicating information about members of armed forces etc

(1) A person commits an offence who—

(a) elicits or attempts to elicit information about an individual who is or has been—

(i) a member of Her Majesty's forces,

(ii) a member of any of the intelligence services, or

(iii) a constable,

which is of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism, or 

(b) publishes or communicates any such information.

(2) It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under this section to prove that they had a reasonable excuse for their action.


The defense may be provided by showing that the photograph will but used for purposes other than for acts of terrorism.

The Criminal Penalty for this Offence is severe:

(3) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable—

(a) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years or to a fine, or to both;

(b) on summary conviction—

(i) in England and Wales or Scotland, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum, or to both;

(ii) in Northern Ireland, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum, or to both.



The Copyright law in the UK is similar to Australia (For more details, please take a look at my article, Photographer’s Rights: Australia

Duration: Copyright in a photograph lasts for 70 years after the death of the Photographer. 

Ownership: The owner of the copyright in the photograph is the photographer.

Protection: Copyright protects both from the photographer directly and indirectly copying the work. 



Infringement of the Copyright is occurred through copying the photograph and in breach of the owner’s exclusive right. However, there must be copying of a substantial part of the photograph to be an infringement of the Copyright.



A right to privacy exists in the UK law, as a consequence of the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic law through the Human Rights Act 1998. The right to privacy is protected by Article 8 of the convention:

Article 8 – Right to respect for private and family life

1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic wellbeing of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.


In the context of photography, it stands at odds to the Article 10 right of freedom of expression. In this instance, UK courts will consider public interest in balancing the rights through the legal test of proportionality. 

Article 10 – Freedom of expression

1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.

2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.


Photographer's Rights - United States (US)

Photography’s Rights – United States of America


General Rule

“If you can see it and you are on public property then you have the right to photograph it.”

When photographing in the United States that you will possess the right to photograph almost anything apart from Military and Energy Installations.


Public Property

Photographers are permitted to take photographs of anything on public property.

Private Property

Photographers may require seeking permission when taking photographs on private property and there still can be restrictions imposed after the permission is granted. Otherwise, taking photographs on private property without permission can constitute trespass of private land.


Restricted Locations for Photographing

Museums, Galleries and Libraries

There will be restrictions imposed when taking photographs inside as they are still regarded as private property for the general public.



Generally, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) permits photography to be taken as long as it does not interfere with the security process. However, different airports have different regulations or authorities but when you are told not to take photographs then you should ask the basis of the legal authority.


Military and Energy Installations

Military installations are prohibited for the reason to protect national security. Energy facilities such as nuclear facility interiors prohibit photographing for similar reasons.

The law governing the Military and Energy Installation is stipulated in 18 USC Section 795 in relation to Photographing and sketching defense installations

Sec. 795. Photographing and sketching defense installations

(a)   {C}Whenever, in the interests of national defense, the President defines certain vital military and naval installations or equipment as requiring protection against the general dissemination of information relative thereto, it shall be unlawful to make any photograph, sketch, picture, drawing, map, or graphical representation of such vital military and naval installations or equipment without first obtaining permission of the commanding officer of the military or naval post, camp, or station, or naval vessels, military and naval aircraft, and any separate military or naval command concerned, or higher authority, and promptly submitting the product obtained to such commanding officer or higher authority for censorship or such other action as he may deem necessary.

(b) Whoever violates this section shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.



The photographer has the right to photograph children inside playgrounds. However, it might be regarded as a suspicious activity in most states of America and some people will question your motivation.


National Park

The rule that photography in national parks require a permit is only applicable for commercial photography. Therefore, a commercial permit is not required for general or personal photography.


Permissible Locations and Subjects for Photography

{C}·         Accident and fire scenes

{C}·         Celebrities

{C}·         Bridges and other infrastructure

{C}·         Industrial facilities and public utilities

{C}·         Residential and commercial buildings

{C}·         Transportation facilities

{C}·         Superfund sites

{C}·         Criminal activities

{C}·         Law Enforcement Officers


Commercial Purpose

General Rule: Permission will be required if the photography is designated for commercial purposes.

·         For a person, it is recommended that a release form to be signed.

·         For private property, the ASMP (American Society of Media Photographers, Inc.) recommends that a property release should be used.


Dealing with the Police Officer

In general when dealing with the police, it is always recommended to remain polite and cooperative without physical resistance. When you are stopped for photography, you should always request the police officer to release you by asking “am I free to go?” Also there is no reason to detain the photographer unless the police officer has reasonable suspicion for your association with any criminal activities.  If you are detained, politely ask what crime you are suspected of committing, and remind the officer that taking photographs is your right under the First Amendment and does not constitute reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. There will be no need to provide identification document to the police officer unless in the course of driving.


Confrontations and how to deal with them

The general public or any person in a public space has limited rights to bother, question or detain you without a legitimate purpose. There will be no obligations to explain or disclose your identity.

Private parties have very limited rights and any illegitimate detention may be subject to criminal and civil penalties.  

{C}·         They have no right to confiscate your film: taking your film directly or indirectly by threatening can constitute criminal offences such as theft and coercion.

{C}·         They have no right to harasses you: if you have been threatened or intimidated when taking photographs, they may be liable for criminal offences such as kidnapping and theft. Alternatively, under civil remedies that you may be entitled to compensation for assault, conversion and violation of constitutional rights under Torts.

In the event of confrontations, always start been polite and respectful and if the other party becomes hostile or unreasonable then you should avoid escalate into a violent situation. Alternatively, it is suggested that you enforce your legal rights as listed above and obtain the other party’s personal details. 



New York City

Photographers have rights to take photographs in the New York City subway under the State Code:

Rule 1050.9 (c), “Photography, filming or video recording in any facility or conveyance is permitted except that ancillary equipment such as lights, reflectors or tripods may not be used"   

Police can still arrest you but there were several successful law suits that the photographer have won and received a large sum of compensation.


Under the MTA rules, Photography is also permitted:

Section 1050.9 – Restricted Areas and Activities

3. Photography, filming or video recording in any facility or conveyance is permitted except that ancillary equipment such as lights, reflectors or tripods may not be used…

7. No person may carry on or bring to any facility or conveyance any item that:

i. is so long as to extend outside the window or door of a subway car, bus or other conveyance;

ii. constitutes a hazard to the operation of the Authority, interferes with passenger traffic, or impedes service; or

iii. constitutes a danger or hazard to other persons.



The Ownership of Copyright means certain exclusive rights for Photographers. For photographic copyrights, the ownership rights are defined in U.S. Copyright Act:

17 U.S.C. 106 for Photographs:

(1) to reproduce the photograph;

(2) to prepare derivative works based upon the photograph;

(3) to distribute copies of the photograph to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending;

(4) to display the photograph publicly;


In general, the photographer who took the photographs owns its copyright and it is necessary to register this Copyright with the US Copyright Office. If photographs are not registered prior to an infringement (within 3 months of the first publication), a copyright owner may only recover “actual damages” for the infringement instead of statutory damages:

17 U.S. Code 504 - Remedies for infringement: Damages and profits

(a) In General.— Except as otherwise provided by this title, an infringer of copyright is liable for either—

(1) the copyright owner’s actual damages and any additional profits of the infringer, as provided by subsection (b); or

(2) statutory damages, as  provided by subsection (c).


(b) Actual Damages and Profits.— The copyright owner is entitled to recover the actual damages suffered by him or her as a result of the infringement, and any profits of the infringer that are attributable to the infringement and are not taken into account in computing the actual damages. In establishing the infringer’s profits, the copyright owner is required to present proof only of the infringer’s gross revenue, and the infringer is required to prove his or her deductible expenses and the elements of profit attributable to factors other than the copyrighted work.