Behind the Lens

7 legal aspects of Photography you need to consider while traveling

This article presents an overview of legal regulations and tips for Photographers on taking pictures when traveling.

Freedom of panorama, copyright, and right to the image - there are many things from a legal point of view that you should know when you take pictures while traveling and want to publish or even sell them. Here we provide a brief overview of the current legal situation regarding photography while traveling.

Summer is here, and for many people, that means one thing: travel and travel photography. Travel photography is not only attractive but also prestigious. National Geographic and Lonely Planet are well-known giants in this field.

With this in mind, it is easy to understand why many photographers are not only taking pictures while traveling for their private albums but also want to use the images commercially afterward and are permanently on the hunt for the perfect travel or vacation picture. However, keep in mind that it is advisable not to press the shutter release in every situation. Photographers should consider local rules and regulations when taking images. To avoid legal consequences follow our tips.

Please note: The below is an overview of common and well-known legal pitfalls you may be facing in many countries and cannot be seen as legal advice for any particular country. Please contact a lawyer specializing in photography law if you need advice on photography in a specific country.

Tip 1 "Only with person´s consent: Photos of people"

In many countries, you must be especially careful while taking photos of people. In this case, the right to one's image applies, which is a manifestation of the general right to privacy. That means the person has the right to determine whether and to what extent pictures of them can be used. 

Regardless of whether photos of people are taken on the beach in Italy, in front of landmarks in Japan, or in markets of indigenous people in South America - in most countries of this world, some laws protect people from intrusions into their privacy. 

In many cases, the declaration of consent is a keyword while using photos that display other people. That means: Images of people may only be used commercially or taken for editorial use if those depicted have given their consent. That may be documented in the form of contracts (it is always better to put something like this in writing) or by fictitious permission, which is given, for example, by the payment of a photographer to the photographed person.

Unfortunately, legal regulations of many countries also don't state clearly whether making people unrecognizable (pixelating) on panorama pictures is sufficient to stay on the safe side. If you want to avoid the risk of a warning or a possible lawsuit, it is better not to publish photos of people without their verifiable consent.


Tip 2 "Be especially careful when taking photos of children“

Particular care should be taken when taking and publishing photos of minors. The parent's consent is regularly required if you want to post a child's image on the internet or use it commercially. 

Moreover, children must also be asked for their consent from around the age of seven in many countries. The parent's consent is mostly no longer necessary from a certain age. Since this can vary, you should be on the safe side and also ask the parents before publishing the image if it is possible.


Tip 3 "Caution: Not every sight may be photographed."

For photos of buildings and public works of art, the so-called "panorama freedom" applies in many places around the world. The freedom of panorama is a restriction of copyright in numerous legal systems and allows you to photograph copyrighted works, buildings, etc., from public thoroughfares without first asking the copyright holder for permission.

So far, so good, but the devil is in the detail here again. A precondition - whether it is a "publicly" accessible place or not is here crucial, as a rule. To give some clarity: As soon as you pay an entrance fee for a garden or park, etc., or have to overcome some other access restriction, it is no longer a public place in this sense. The freedom of panorama then no longer applies, and you should ask for permission before taking pictures.

The second condition to consider is that the certain work/building must be "permanent." So a permanently installed work of art or a building that has been there for many years is okay. But an art installation designed for a specific, short period no longer belongs to the freedom of panorama.

A famous example is the illuminated Eiffel Tower at night. The Paris landmark can be photographed at night, but the pictures may not be published afterward because the light installation is protected by copyright. Since one company has secured the rights to illuminate the Eiffel Tower, permission must be obtained before publication and using a picture for commercial purposes.

The same applies to the Atomium in Brussels, for example. Construction engineer André Waterkeyn commissioned SABAM and the V.o.G Atomium to guarantee his copyright during his lifetime. Therefore, any commercial image that is to be published must be submitted in advance to the V.o.G for approval. However, there is an exception to this rule. Pictures taken by private individuals and reproduced on websites, social networks, blogs, etc., for non-commercial purposes may be published.

However freedom of panorama is recognized in copyright law in many countries, it is important to remember that its scope can vary from country to country. For example, the freedom of panorama can only extend to particular works such as buildings or only cover reproduction for private use. That is why, it is never wrong to inform yourself about the architecture in question and the laws of the different countries, as these may vary extremely.

Wikipedia summarizes the regulations of individual countries in more detail.


Tip 4 "Consider house rights when photographing inside buildings."

For publishing interior photos of buildings, including buildings that are freely accessible to the public, such as churches, train stations, etc., it is necessary in many cases to get the owner's consent, a so-called "property release" first.

In the case of buildings that are open to the public, i.e., historic buildings and other landmarks, there are often regulations about what can be photographed and published that you can usually find at the entrance. Only commercial use is prohibited, and private publication is permitted in many cases. However, there are a dozen exceptions here, too.

For example, photos are prohibited in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. That is a measure to protect the exhibits from flashbulbs. There is also a strict ban on photography in the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. 


Tip 5 "Prohibition of images in some religions."

Especially when traveling to a country with Buddhist or Islamic religious communities, one should be well informed in advance. It is often considered sacrilegious to take images of saints and statues.

In Thailand, for example, it is forbidden to photograph the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew) - it is just too sacred. In Arab countries, it is not allowed to take photos of the ruling family's palaces and the ruling family itself. In addition, Islam prohibits, for example, the pictorial representation of people and animals.

However, the interpretation of the image ban differs significantly in the individual countries and regions, ranging from fundamental ban to limited permission. Even the Islamic ban on images no longer plays a significant role everywhere. But remember: to be on the safe side, ask for permission before taking pictures. Especially in remote and more religiously influenced places.


Tip 6 "Beware of photos of the culinary delights."

The restrictions concerning taking photos may also apply in some jurisdictions, for example, to take pictures of food or nicely arranged plates in restaurants 

Suppose the culinary delights on vacation are arranged as a particularly delicious masterpiece and you want to share them on your blog or website. We advise you to think twice before doing that. In sporadic cases, when the food is particularly elaborate, the chef must be respected as the creator of the work of art. In such a situation, taking pictures of food without the author´s consent is prohibited.


Tip 7 "Photos of brand names, logos, or protected design -  only for editorial use."

Trademarked buildings, objects, brand names, logos, etc., may be ususally photographed in but not for commercial use in most cases. That includes for example the illuminated Eiffel Tower at night again, German ICE trains, and Ayers Rock in Australia.

With this in mind, we advise you always read exactly about the legal aspects of a photographed object, before offering photos commercially, for example, on stock photo portals,

Check out our The Ultimate Guide to understanding and enforcing Image Copyright to get more insights about Copyright.

n this article, you have learned that there are some specific regulations to consider while taking pictures while traveling the world. Keeping these in mind allows a Photographer to avoid possible legal complications and violating somebody´s Copyrights. But it is also conceivable that your rights as a photographer are infringed, namely that your Copyrights may be violated by someone else. It happens too often nowadays, that someone wants to make his/ her blog or website look better using attractive images from the Internet. And these could be yours.

What to do in such a case? How to approach the infringer? And how to prevent Copyright infringements in the future?

We at Fair Licensing gladly help you to get the answer to all these questions.


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