Photographing your way through an Intellectual Property Minefield

by Emily Shoemark - Snedden Hall & Gallop

Are your photos protected by copyright?

A photograph is protected by copyright as soon as it is taken. Generally, the photographer is the owner of the copyright in the photos he or she takes. There are exceptions to this rule depending on the photographer’s employment and the reason that the photo is taken.

Photographing People

In Australia, copyright and privacy laws do not protect a person’s image, and ‘a person, in our society, does not have a right not to be photographed.’ [1]  However, as a general rule, you should get permission to take a person’s photograph if you are going to use it for a commercial purpose.

Private property

If you are on privately owned land, you need the owner’s permission to be on that property and the owner has the right to prevent or restrict the photos you take. It is important to remember that just because land is publicly accessible, this does not mean that it is public land. However, the property owner cannot stop you from taking photos of their private land, or things or people on that land, if it is taken from public place (for example, the street).  [2]

Entertainment and sporting events 

Whether or not you can take photos of a concert or your child’s sports carnival depends on a number of factors, such as whether the event is being held on private or public land, the organiser’s consent and child protection issues. Some event organisers may restrict photography of performances due to copyright reasons, and the type of image you are taking, as well as the nature of the performance, will need to be taken into consideration.

Landmarks, sculptures and national parks

There are specific exceptions in the Copyright Act that allow people to take and publish photographs of buildings and sculptures in a public place without infringing copyright. [3] However, keep in mind that local councils and authorities prohibit photography in some public places, such as Darling Harbour and Sydney Olympic Park in Sydney, and remember that suspicious photography may be reported to the authorities. A permit is needed to take photos for commercial use on a Commonwealth reserve, such as Kakadu National Park or National Botanic Gardens.

[1]  R v Sotheren (2001) NSWSC 204
[2]  Victoria Park Racing and Recreation Grounds Co Td v Taylor (1937) 
[3]  Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) Division 7

Emily Shoemark, Lawyer
(02) 6285 8000


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