There’s been a lively debate on the rights and wrongs of street photography following the charging and conviction of a photographer for taking street snaps last New Years Eve in Perth.


He was charged with ‘disorderly behaviour causing offence by taking photographs without consent’ after an individual objected to the photographer (who also happened to be a photography teacher) taking photographs of his friend without permission.

The photographs were taken on an iPhone in a public space and the photographer, according to a friendly witness, ‘did not engage in any furtive or dodgy behaviour. CCTV footage tendered to the court merely showed him sitting and snapping away from time to time.’

The young man objecting to the photography was somewhat drunk and belligerent and snatched the iPhone from the photographer and handed it over to a policeman.

The policeman, according to the prosecution, took the photographer into custody ‘for his own protection’ and he was charged with disorderly behaviour.

The magistrate noted on reviewing the CCTV footage, that there were many more disorderly people present than the photographer. He confirmed that under Australian law and given the circumstances, the photographer did not have to seek the permission of the subject, who could not reasonably expect not to be photographed.

Nonetheless he was guilty of disorderly behaviour because members of the public did object to him taking photos without permission.

As a result his behaviour caused offence and so could be considered disorderly. Guilty as charged.

As Julian Tennant, a friend of the guilty party (and also a photographer) noted:  ‘On the face of it, the basis that people don’t have an inherent right to privacy and can be photographed in a public place does not change. HOWEVER, if somebody objects to having a photograph taken and is of the belief that the act of doing so is inappropriate or illegal (regardless of whether it is or not) then the photographer may find themselves in court charged with a ‘one shoe fits all’ type of charge such as disorderly behaviour and… found guilty.

Think about the implications of that, particularly if you are a street or documentary photographer.’

The Arts Law Council (  has some useful Fact Sheets on photographers’ rights in Australia. In short, it states:

It is generally possible to take photographs in a public place without asking permission. This extends to taking photographs of buildings, sites and people. There are, however, some limitations.

There are no publicity or personality rights in Australia, and there is no right to privacy that protects a person’s image. Existing privacy laws are more concerned with storage and management of personal information and are of limited relevance to the present issue.

> Keith Shipton