Stand Your Ground
Photographers' rights in the UK
In recent times there has been much confusion surrounding photographers' rights in the UK. This page will clear up some of that confusion with the essential information, answers to important questions and useful resources. By reading this page you accept that LFPH are not offering legal advice and do not accept responsibility for any omissions or errors. If you require legal advice please consult a lawyer.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
There is NO law preventing you from taking photographs of whoever you want and whatever you want so long as you are standing on public land and not on private property. This includes photographing police officers. There are a few exceptions to this rule including sensitive government buildings such as the MI6 building and MoD properties.
However, it can sometimes be hard to distinguish between what is public and private land, especially now as more and more supposedly "public spaces" are in fact owned by private companies. Still, the majorty of pavements and footpaths are public land.
There are a couple of indicators to look out for to let you know if you are on public or private land:
Metal studs or tracks running along the pavement - the area of pavement alongside the road will be public property but the other side of the line will belong to the nearest private estate.
Wall mounted plaque - these can be hard to spot but will be mounted on a wall somewhere on the private estate, stating who the land belongs to and some of the restrictions.
Image © Pennie Quinton
Screenshot from Stand Your Ground film
You can see examples of both of the above markers in the Stand Your Ground documentary.
ANSWERS TO IMPORTANT QUESTIONS
Can I take photographs of people and places (without their permission) as long as I am standing on public property?
YES! If you are standing on public property you are legally allowed to photograph anyone or anything you like, even if your subject is on private property or is a private building. We would of course always encourage you to exercise common sense, be courteous and respectful to others and behave in a sensible and moral way.
Can I take photographs on public land that I intend to use non-commercially and commercially?
YES! You are within your rights to use images editorially, in a book, on a website or in an exhibition. However if a person is recognisable and you use their picture or that of a privately owned building without their permsission to endorse a product such as in an advertising campaign, this could result in legal action.
Can I take photographs of private property that I intend to use for profit-making commercial gain?
YES! Unless you have gained entry illegally. You may need permission from the property owners if you intend to use the image to endorse a product. Many institutions such as the National Trust, English Heritage, Disneyland and Graceland that allow ticketed access to the public, make it a condition of entry that photographs may be taken, but may not be used for commercial gain of any kind.
Am I required by law to give my personal details to private security staff?
NO! When stopped by security guards, you are not obliged to provide any personal details. Private security guards do not have any police powers, nor do they have any powers to view or delete images or confiscate equipment.
Am I required by law to give my personal details to the police?
NO! Unless the police have reasonable suspicion that you are involved in terrorist activities, they have no powers to take your details, look at your photos or to confiscate your camera. However, failing to cooperate with the police when questioned may lead to a charge of obstruction. Cooperation and politeness are the most efficacious ways of dealing with police enquiries.
Common sense and knowledge are your best friends. Avoid taking photographs of children without consent, exercise caution and empathy when photographing victims in traumatic situations and be prepared to be questioned if photographing sensitive buildings such as government premises, banks and embassies. Develop your knowledge of the law and carrying a print out of your rights.
KEEP A PRINT OUT OF YOUR RIGHTS WITH YOU AT ALL TIMES
Amateur Photographer magazine has produced a Photographers' Rights Card. Print it out and keep it with you.
Media and Intellectual Property Law specialist Linda Macpherson LL.B, Dip. L.P., LL.M has written the very useful UK Photographers Rights Guide which is designed to be printed double sided and kept with you when taking photographs, or used as a hand out at events promoting photographers rights.
We'd even suggest taking a screenshot of the top half of this page and handing it to a police officer if it ever came to it: View Metropolitan Police guidelines.
Wikipedia also has a useful article relating to photographer's rights.
POLICE GUIDANCE ISSUED TO POLICE OFFERS
New guidance was issued in April 2010 stating that police have no powers to view or confiscate photos without reasonable suspicion of terrorist activities. In July 2010, section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2011 was repealed and replaced by section 47a, which states that police officers must have reasonable suspicion that the individual (or group) is involved in terrorist activities.
View Metropolitan Police guidelines
RECENT GOVERNMENT GUIDANCE ISSUED TO SECURITY FIRMS
In November 2011 the government issued new guidance to security firms outlining zero rights to prevent photographers taking photos on public land.
Download the guidance document.
We hope you find this helpful, and please do get in touch if you would like to suggest further resources or if we have made any errors.