What are photo privacy laws?

By Andrew Hudson Published: September 27, 2011 Updated: October 29, 2013

There is a patchwork of local laws protecting people’s “right to be left alone” — which, in our viewpoint, means a right not to be photographed in a private location.

An outgrowth of these privacy laws are publicity laws which allow people (such as models and celebrities) to protect their likeness and charge for appearing in photos and adverts.

A quick guide to photography and privacy

When taking a photo:

  • You can photograph people who are openly in public view — for example, on the street, on the beach, in a park.
  • You can’t photograph people when they’re out of public view and in a private area, such as in a bedroom, changing room, bathroom, doctor’s office, etc. People are permitted a “reasonable expectation of privacy.”

When selling or publishing a photo:

  • You’ll need a signed model release if the use of the photo is commercial, such as for an advert or the cover of a product. This includes celebrities, even though they’re “public” figures and even if you photographed them in a public place. (Editorial, factual, newsworthy purposes are OK).
  • The display of the photo can’t be maliciously untrue, or humiliate, ridicule, or reveal embarrassing and personal facts about a non-newsworthy person.

Privacy laws

In the U.S., there is no federal statutory law on privacy. Instead, many states have privacy and publicity laws, and there is a wealth of “common law” (previous court rulings) that protects people.

For more information, see privacy.


Reply by Anonymous

July 6, 2015

Is posting to a public Facebook page considered publishing?

Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

January 13, 2016

This depends on context. In respect to privacy, yes, posting a photo on Facebook could be considered publishing, as the photo can be seen publicly by others.

Reply by Mikael P. Giese

June 9, 2013

Need some info on this please.

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