by Contributor

(Jun. 22, 2022) — This article covers the laws which dictate what you can and can’t do when taking someone’s photo in the UK vs US…

Taking someone’s photo without getting their permission is a somewhat grey area. While it isn’t the sort of thing that’s typically welcomed, an argument can be made to suggest that, if someone’s photo is taken in public, they shouldn’t have any expectation to privacy.

But what does the law on taking photos without permission actually say? And does this differ between the UK and US?

We’ll be answering those questions and any other related matters in the following post. Read on below to find out more…

What do the laws on taking photos without permission look like in the UK?

Starting off with the UK, the laws are pretty clear cut. It is not illegal for anyone to take a picture of someone in a public setting without getting permission.

Someone who is in a public setting, such as a park, can have no reasonable expectation to any degree of privacy. This means that it is not a crime to take photos in public, nor does someone have the authority to stop you from taking said photos if they are featured.

By extension, any photos you take of someone in public can then be printed or published online. Permission isn’t needed for this.

However, where someone is in an environment where they should reasonably expect a degree of privacy, such as their own home, their garden, or a changing room in an otherwise public setting, this is likely to breach privacy laws and could lead to some form of prosecution.

It’s also important to point out taking photos without consent is rarely, if ever, welcomed. If it’s believed that you’re taking ‘targeted’ photography of another person without their consent, this could be considered harassment.

Are the laws on taking photos of children in the UK without consent any different?

In the UK, the same basic rules apply where the subject of the photo is a child (someone under the age of 16). It is legal to take photos in a public space that feature children and permission from their parents or guardian is not required.

There are question marks over this particular issue, especially as, as far as UK laws are concerned, it is not strictly illegal to publish any photos that feature children.

As would be expected, many parents or carers are uncomfortable with the idea of photos of their children being taken and shared without consent. This may be because they have previously been a target of abuse and are worried about being identified, they are minimising their online presence, or they have religious reasons for not wanting to be photographed.

The NSPCC has published guidance in relation to this, providing advice which helps to clarify certain issues. This includes advising that any organisations should develop a written photography statement that outlines their approach to taking images of young people.

Legally, a criminal offence will have taken place if any images of children are considered to be ‘indecent’. This is where the police would step in.

What does the law on taking photos without permission look like in the US?

In many respects, the laws on taking photos of people without consent are similar in the US when compared to the UK. Again, it’s considered perfectly legal to take photos of people without their permission, so long as they are taken in a public setting and privacy could not reasonably be expected. What’s more, publishing these photos is also not considered a crime.

The private setting issue is also present in the US and dictates what is and isn’t possible. Just like in the UK, taking a photo of someone in a private setting when they don’t provide permission is a violation of privacy laws and could lead to legal action being taken.

What are the laws of taking photos of children without permission in the US?

Save for exceptions, the laws on taking photos of children without permission are the same in the US as they are in the UK. It’s not illegal to take photos of children, so long as they are in a public setting, and permission isn’t required from a parent or carer.

However, one matter that is important to factor in, is that States and municipalities have the authority to make their own laws regarding issues such as photographing children. This means that school districts can restrict filling and photography on their grounds and the use of any images without parental consent.

Can someone claim defamation in the UK and US?

Given the right circumstances, if someone features in a photo that they did not provide permission for, they could claim defamation. This is true in both the UK and the US.

Defamation occurs where an image that has been published harms someone’s reputation or creates a false impression of them in some way.

So, if a photo has been published that frames someone in a negative light (perhaps due to the contents of the photo itself or any captions that accompany it) they could take legal action to have the photo taken down, and to be compensated for the negative impact it has had on their life.

Have you got any other questions about the laws on taking photos without permission?

In this post, we’ve covered what the laws in the UK and the US say about taking photos of people without consent, and where there may be certain issues which you should always be aware of.

Have you got any further questions about taking photos without consent? If so, feel free to leave them in the comment below so we can keep the discussion going!

Please be advised that this article is for general informational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for advice from a trained legal professional. Be sure to consult a lawyer/solicitor if you’re seeking advice on the law. We are not liable for risks or issues associated with using or acting upon the information on this site.


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