Restricting photography in Sydney


Josephine Tovey wrote an article in Sydney Morning Herald titled “Photographers draw a line in the sand over picture permits” on 12th of August 2010. The article’s main subject is the cost imposed on commercial photographers by various organisations, despite the places photographed being located on public land.

The article contains some inaccuracies, but in the essence is correct: various councils and property owners are charging exuberant fees for photography.

There are a couple of important point of distinction here. Firstly, the fees charged apply only to commercial photography. The word commercial is not defined in the Copyright Act, however, contrary to the last quoted paragraph it does not apply to ‘Exhibiting and selling images in a gallery is a commercial activity, so in this instance we would need to ensure a licensing agreement is in place’, a quote attributed to Sydney Opera House spokeswoman. Commercial use of photography is rather in context of advertising and endorsing products using the photographs, rather than selling the photographs themselves.

Secondly, a number of places mentioned in the articles, such as Luna Park, although are on public grounds, they are leased to private companies and have to be considered private property for duration of the lease. In such cases, indeed, the lease holder can set any rules they see fit, as long as they do not contravene the law.

I do not agree with these fees as majority of them are imposed on photography on public land and should be FREE and I will very likely join Ken Duncan’s protest on 29th of August organised by Arts Freedom Australia. Photography is a noble art. It leaves a trace of history for generations to come.

Separately, a specific note for some commentators on this story: there is no privacy in public in NSW. Not by law and not by precedence. Quite the opposite: Sydney photographers captured people for many years without restrictions. These days, photograph like that, are part of national archives showing captured lifestyles of past generations. These candid photographs cannot be used commercially (see the point above) but they have their own place in art and history of people of NSW. Many cases where photography was restricted and such restrictions were publicised by media ended up being dismissed by the legal system for invalid use of the law.

Here is a good summary of Street Photographer’s Rights created by Arts Law Centre of Australia.
Another very good resource of legal rights and obligations related to photography is NSW Photo Rights maintained by by Andrew Nemeth.