UK Photography Law... As I Understand It

After listening to an American photography podcast talk about model release forms I decided to look into the situation here in the UK. Below is my understanding of the UK law and your rights as a photographer. However I have no legal expertise, this is not a legal document and you certainly shouldn’t rely on it as part of your defence if you end up in court. If you are involved in legal dispute then you need to consult a solicitor. I cannot accept any losses that could result from you using any of the information in this blog post.

There are two main scenarios that cover photography. One is where you take photos on public property and the other is where you take photos on private property.

On Public Property

  1. You may take photographs of people or objects (including buildings) whilst on public property. With a few exceptions (see below) the owners of the property cannot prevent you from doing so and people cannot generally object (again, see below) to having their photographs taken. However if you are causing an obstruction you may be asked to move on by a police officer.

  2. Trafalgar Square and Parliament Square in London have specific provisions against photography for commercial purposes without the written permission of the Mayor, or the Squares’ Management Team and paying a fee. Permission is also needed to photograph or film for commercial purposes in the Royal Parks. You may also not take photographs in any court building of a judge, of a juror or of a witness in or a party to any proceedings before the court.

  3. In the UK you do not have to get the permission of people you photograph whilst you are on public property. Nor do you have to get them to sign a model release form. However, if you are going to use or sell the photographs commercially outside of the UK then international parties may require a model release form to comply with their own laws. Additionally, if you are going to use an image of a private building or of a recognisable person without their permission to endorse a product then you could face legal action.

  4. If you are on public property you may photograph people on private property as long as they are not in a place where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy (bedrooms and lavatories for example).

  5. It is an offence under the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 to publish or communicate a photograph of a constable (not including PCSOs), a member of the armed forces, or a member of the security services, which is of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism.

  6. It is also an offence under section 58 of the Terrorism Act 2000 to take a photograph of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism, or possessing such a photograph.

  7. On public property, you, the photographer, own your photographs and their copyright. The subject of the photo has no rights over your photographs and you are under no obligation to give them a copy.

  8. Whilst you are on public property you do not have to delete any photos you have taken and doing so is actually destroying the evidence of whatever you are being accused of. Security guards do not have stop and search powers or the right to seize your equipment or delete images under any circumstances. Any attempt to do so is assault. In some circumstances, the police may grab your memory cards but they are still not authorised to delete any images.

  9. You do not need a special license to take a photograph if you are on freely accessible public property.

  10. You can photograph minors/children as long as the images are not obscene or indecent.

  11. Persistent or aggressive photography of an individual may constitute harassment which is illegal.

On Private Property

  1. In general, as long as permission has been granted, the above rules for public property apply on private property. However landowners are allowed to impose conditions which apply upon entry to their property and these conditions can forbid or restrict photography.

  2. If you are asked to stop taking photographs on private property then it is advisable to do so. The person asking might not have the legal right to do so but it is likely that the actual landowner will side with them rather than you. Additionally you could be accused of trespass.

  3. Property owners or their employees and security staff have no right whatsoever to confiscate or damage a photographer’s camera or insist that images are deleted.

  4. Railways and tube stations generally people to take non-commercial photographs as long as you don’t cause an obstruction (more likely to happen if you are using a tripod). However asking station staff first is probably a good idea. For commercial photography you should seek permission in advance.

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