You are taking pictures at a beach when someone abuses you for
invading people's privacy. You take a picture of the Opera
House and use it in advertising for a product. You take a picture
of a performer at a street fair and they demand you delete the
picture as it breaches copyright.
All these scenarios are wrong in law. The legal rights and
wrongs of taking photographs can be confusing, so let's look at
what the law says.
Firstly, it's legal to take photos in a public place. There
is no right to privacy that forbids you taking a person's photo
so long as you are standing on public property. You can even take a
photo of someone in their house or backyard so long as you
don't step on their private property.
Secondly, nobody can claim copyright to their own image. So long
as you are on public property you can publish the photo. But if you
publish a photo taken by someone else you run into copyright
issues. Get permission to use it.
The performer in the above scenario was wrong as the photo was
taken on public property. But if it had been taken in a private
venue the performer or artist can have an agreement with the venue
owner about photographs.
Using a photo for commercial purposes is different. You are
welcome to take happy snaps of the Opera House, but if you then use
the photo to advertise a product without permission of the Opera
House you will be in trouble with the managers. This is
"commercial use" and needs approval.
Similarly if you are standing on private property it is illegal
to take pictures or film without permission. This includes shopping
malls, industrial sites, farms and office blocks. Technically
it's illegal to use your camera phone to film a rock concert,
but they've given up policing it.
However the law is still to catch up when it comes to using
small aerial drones to hover and film criminal suspects or farming
and mining operations.
If the operator is standing on public property and so long as
the drone doesn't land or enter a private building they are
within existing laws. Channel 9 used a drone to film down into
Christmas Island detention centre and Federal Police conceded they
broke no laws. Aviation laws say the drone must stay 30 metres from
people, but there are calls to restrict the use of aerial drones to
film inside private property.
Photo use can be a cloudy issue - if in doubt seek legal
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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The ALRC has released its report on its inquiry into the prevention of serious invasions of privacy in the digital era.
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