Dear Lifehacker, Today I had my first run-in as an amateur photographer with a security guard at a local shopping centre (taking pictures of the outside). It was pretty tame but it once again got me thinking: is there such a thing as a single unified list of photographer’s rights in Australia?
So far, based on the research I’ve done, the answer appears to be “No” but I’m wondering if Lifehacker AU readers might know better. There are succinct photographer’s rights cards available for both the USA and UK but Australia’s multi-level quagmire of federal, state and local laws and then private property policies on top of that seem to make that nigh on impossible here. Any ideas? Thanks, Daniel
As you’ve already suggested, the complex legal situation in Australia — and the lack of anything like a bill of rights to enforce either a right to privacy or a right to free speech — means that the law regarding photography in Australia really doesn’t lend itself to being summarised on a single card which you can wave at anyone who objects to your photographs. In the case of private property (which includes shopping centres, entertainment venues and lots of other places the public has access to) it would be meaningless anyway: the owners of the property can, for all practical purposes, set whatever rules they like.
Much of the online discussion around this issue focuses on US legal issues, which have pretty much zero relevance in Australia. Andrew Nemeth’s NSW Photo Rights is a useful exploration of the complex legal issues involved. While it focuses on NSW law and on taking pictures of people, it’s a great read for anyone who wants a more in-depth examination of the factors involved.
Given the prevalence of camera phones in the modern world, photographs get taken in public places and other “forbidden” venues much more often than they used to, and as often as not no-one bats an eyelid. What tends to make you stand out is either having a larger SLR in the first place (these don’t go down well at AFL matches) or pulling out a tripod. Long-term videoing can also attract the attention of security guards, though again it depends on the context; there’s no shortage of concert bootlegs on YouTube, but you won’t last long in an average theatre trying to photograph or film a stage play. Museums often don’t mind photography, but balk at the use of flash (though lots of people apparently can’t read the enormous signs with those rules in place).
If anyone does know of a pocket rights card specific to Australian photographers, please tell us in the comments, or share your strategies for taking photographs without getting hassled by officious types.
(And a final note for anyone who is wondering where the apostrophe police stand on a phrase like “photographer’s rights”: those rights are exercised individually, not collectively, so they are correctly assigned to each individual photographer, not photographers as a group.)