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Context

I was recently informed that in Germany I cannot take pictures of houses (as the subject), however this is not true. It can be possible to take pictures but owners of buildings may chose to opt out, in systems such as Google Street Maps but in general it is possible for people to take pictures of houses or related, generally. Publication it seems may always be allowed and as always owners may complain as you are taking the image.

Question

In the UK, Portugal, Belgium and Germany is street photography allowed, and/or is it discouraged by the local/police/related?

For those that have links or books that may cover all of Europe, please link as well.

(Perhaps I'm not seeing it as I live in America. American law dictates that if you're on a public street/location, you can shoot anything/anyone, assuming you can reach them with your lens and you're not blatantly trespassing for the shot. Exceptions exist if it causes a problem with the government (security) or at a place where privacy is expected such as the bathroom.)

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    I don't think that's true, even in Germany. I have taken tons of pictures there and never had any problem (well except once when I was inadvertently taking pictures of the headquarters of the BND). You will also see many such pictures on Wikipedia and elsewhere. The issue is not taking them nor even publishing them but publishing them systematically in a way that falls under data protection laws, that's what got Google Street View. – Relaxed Nov 26 '15 at 7:42
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    Voting to close as too broad. Europe consists of 50 countries, all with different laws and regulations. There's no blanket rule. – JonathanReez Nov 26 '15 at 9:04
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    It has been discussed in answers and comments that taking photos is not an issue in Germany (for Google Street View or others), just publication is. However, two things should be noted about this: Google was the first well-known service doing systematic street-side photography. As a result, they got all the flak, had to blur loads of photos of various buildings, while other companies doing similar things shortly afterwards got considerably less attention and might show buildings that are blurred on Google Street View. Second, even Google is not obliged to blur out all private ... – O. R. Mapper Nov 26 '15 at 14:15
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    ... residences in Germany. They just have to provide a an easy way for owners of buildings to opt out, in which case Google will blur the respective building (and nothing else). So, the number of blurred buildings you spot on Google Street View in German streets is directly related to the number of building owners who cared to indicate their disapproval of the service. Actually, I suggest editing some of this into your question, as the premise as currently stated, especially condlucing "this is a fact.", is simply incorrect. – O. R. Mapper Nov 26 '15 at 14:17
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    From a social perspective I never had any issues taking photos in the street in any of those countrys. I suppose that it depends on what you want to do with the photos. If its personas, you shoot you keep the photos for yourself, in principle no one will ever bother you. If you want to publish them things change a bit and therefore you may be better asking this question in legal SE rather than in travel. – nsn Nov 27 '15 at 9:33
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In the UK, the setup is broadly similar to the US. As the Metropolitan (ie, London's) Police website says

Members of the public and the media do not need a permit to film or photograph in public places and police have no power to stop them filming or photographing incidents or police personnel.

[...]

Officers do not have the power to delete digital images or destroy film at any point during a search. Deletion or destruction may only take place following seizure if there is a lawful power (such as a court order) that permits such deletion or destruction.

Although some photographers' experiences suggest that you cannot always rely on any given policeman knowing this.

In France, Wikimedia Commons notes that

Article 9 of French Civil Code states: “Everyone has the right to respect for his private life”. This is generally considered to include one's right to the own image, even if it is taken in a public space.

According to case law and legal doctrine, photographs taken of (one or more) individuals require authorisation. Just taking someone's photo without consent (in private or public space) can be considered as an invasion of privacy and gives them the right to claim for cessation of the wrongful conduct. Everyone is legally protected from unauthorised distribution, publication or commercialisation of a picture of himself. The permission has to be interpreted in a strict way (only to the extent expressly consented to by the subject)

though it goes on to note that certain exceptions exist (which seem to me primarily to relate to the incidental and minor appearance of individuals in photographs taken in public places). So the scenery is probably OK, but if there are people in your photo, be careful that you are not making them a major feature of the image.

I have been involved in a traffic accident in France, and being uninjured and having followed normal UK practice of photographing everything and everyone from as many angles as possible, was surprised when the attending officer was more upset with me than with any of the drivers. That in the heat of the moment I was unable to remember any of the French verbs related to deleting images, and thus could not promise to immediately rectify the situation, did not help.

  • (-1) The text on French privacy law does not cite any specific source and is, to the best of my knowledge, incorrect. It seems more intended as a straw man to complain about the Levinson inquiry than a practical guide for photographers or an exposition of French law. Plus, things like “It has turned a most cultured people into a nation of court going suers.” and all these “CENSORED” pictures are clearly polemical in nature. I think your answer should either focus on the UK or use a better source. – Relaxed Nov 26 '15 at 7:48
  • @Relaxed had I not been personally taken to task by a French policeman, who made it very clear that the loi d'images made what I'd just done unlawful, I would agree with you. But it has not been my experience on this site that personal experience is useless without references (in regards to eg visa issue, experience at airports, etc.). I certainly agree about the quality of that reference, but I couldn't find a better one in English. I will try. – MadHatter Nov 26 '15 at 8:09
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    I would not trust a policeman to actually know this. I said “to the best of my knowledge” because the issue is complex and I am not a specialist, but I can assure your there is no statute called “loi d'image” or anything remotely similar, you sometimes hear people talking about ”droit à l'image” but it's all grounded in case law. The problem is that the article you found is clearly polemical and demonstrably wrong in many points of details so I don't trust it regarding the core issue (whether taking or publishing the pictures is what's forbidden, I think it's the latter). – Relaxed Nov 26 '15 at 8:10
  • @Relaxed I agree with you regarding the unreliability of policemen, but that is part of a valid answer: note that I also say that UK policemen sometimes do not know that photography in a public place is legal in the UK, and you've not objected to that part of the answer. Wikimedia Commons is very clear that publication and exploitation of personal photographs requires consent in France, and that with some exceptions, taking one does also. – MadHatter Nov 26 '15 at 8:14
  • I would still object to some details but this source is more nuanced and would certainly be good enough for our purpose. Note that the exceptions include taking pictures of public places where a person is incidentally present, so no bans on street photography but only possibly for portraits. I will happily change my vote if you reference it instead the current one. – Relaxed Nov 26 '15 at 8:19
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I am not aware of any country in Western Europe with a blanket ban on street photography.

Some countries have complex privacy law (including case law) that makes publishing photo of persons without prior written authorization potentially sensitive but that's a completely different issue. “Copyright” protection is also very extensive and can extend to buildings or lightning (most famously the Tour Eiffel light show) in ways that would not hold in the US.

Finally, what got Google Street View in Germany are data protection laws. Each EU country has a data protection authority in charge of overseeing/controlling all files that contain personal information, which, in Germany, was deemed to include pictures of your residence. The issue here is automated processing/systematic publication, not taking pictures per se.

So taking pictures for your own use or even publishing them in the US is almost certainly not an issue but any sort of local use (especially commercial) is fraught with difficulties, especially if there are people on the picture.

Quite apart from the details of the law, I have heard about some people getting angry at being photographed so in a way street photography is not fully accepted in Europe.

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    As a rule, wherever you are in the world, if someone is going to appear in a photograph in a way that makes them recognisable, ask them first. And if you are going to put in in Facebook or whatever, ask again. This is not just to save you from being arrested or sued, it is common politeness. The same applies to private houses or cars or whatever. If it's a prettied up house in a tourist area, they may be used to it, but honestly, you wouldn't like it either. – RedSonja Nov 26 '15 at 14:08
  • @RedSonja: "if someone is going to appear in a photograph in a way that makes them recognisable, ask them first" - or, of course, make them unrecognizeable. Related question: Tool for Automatically Blurring People in Photos – O. R. Mapper Nov 26 '15 at 14:22
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    Actually, what got Google was the public outcry. Per law, they had every right to take and publicize photos from a public street. As far as I know, there was no court case connected to Street View. However, as Google already has a bad image in Germany in regards to data protection, they decided to first give house owners the possibility to have their house blurred and then to not bother with rolling out Street View for more than the cities they started with. – toni Nov 26 '15 at 14:52
  • @offbyoni You may be right, ultimately the service was not forbidden, they just decided it wasn't worth it with all the trouble it was causing them. However I seem to recall that there was a decision from the data protection authority that made it mandatory to allow people to blur their home. My point was that the difficulties and the outcry that led to Google's decision were rooted in data protection rules, not laws about photography per se. – Relaxed Nov 26 '15 at 15:02
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    @RedSonja In Germany it's perfectly ok to take pictures with (even recognizable) people in them and even publish them. The threshold where consent is required is if a person plays an important part in the picture, i.e. is not just collateral part of a street scene etc. There is an obvious grey area there, for sure, but the law somehow reflects the common sense that it's impractical and in many cases plain impossible to obtain the consent of every recognizable person in a crowd (think of photographing a protest march), so that requiring that would makes such photographs impossible. – Peter A. Schneider Nov 27 '15 at 12:03
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In Germany you can take photos for personal reasons as much as you like. If you tak pictures of persons you should ask however.

Legal restrictions exist for publishing due to personality rights and copyright. The Kunsturhebergesetzt (Copy right law for works of art) prevents publishing photos where persons are the central part of the picture (i.e. if you take a picture of a monument and a person runs by this is legally no problem) The Urhebergesetz (copyright law) otherwise regulates that reproduction of copyrighted material requires permission of the copyright holder. Buildings are copyrighted by the Architect. There however is the so called Panoramafreiheit (freedom of panorama) which allows pictures of buildings from publicly available spaces.

The Google Street View situation is not based on legal restrictions, however. When Google started taking their pictures there was a big campaign by media stating that Google would take too many pictures and people feared those pictures would look through windows and would show too much detail. To avoid further conflict Google then volunteered to offer a way for house owners etc. to blur out their buildings.

In general people in Germany are concerned about their privacy which might make this even more complicated than the law.

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    Note that the part about your personal rights on your own picture can be waived away by signature, and that it does not apply for groups of more of five people, or for people that are not being depicted in their personal life, like a politician giving a speech. Wikipedia has a pretty good summary of all of this. Also see de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recht_am_Bild_der_eigenen_Sache for houses, dogs and other things. – simbabque Nov 26 '15 at 15:19
  • The wikipedia article seems to indicate that even the mere taking (not publishing) can be forbidden by the subject, but with stricter limitations (and obviously there is less source for confict because it will often not be noticed). – Peter A. Schneider Nov 27 '15 at 12:12
  • The criteria established by the courts for mandatory consent is: if the picture would change character or message without that person. – Peter A. Schneider Nov 27 '15 at 12:21
  • "If you tak pictures of persons you should ask however." Does "should" here mean it's required by law? That it's illegal to do without permission? – DBedrenko Nov 27 '15 at 15:16
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A few months ago, this issue was up for debate in the European Parliament. Whether the Freedom of Panorama, FoP, was going to be restricted within the EU was going to be up for a vote on July 9. The bill in question would require "commercial use of such reproductions [to] require authorization from the right holder".

However, due, in part to a write-in campaign, FoP was saved, for those countries that had it to begin with. This includes Germany, but not France, Italy, Belgium and Greece.

Germany does have rather strict privacy laws. Here's a somewhat old blog post with some additional info, specifically on photography in public places.

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As for Poland, I have never heard of that. I have read about the privacy law(at least when it comes for making photos of people), and rule of thumb is: you can't disclose any information that would allow the identification of some individual(name, personal ID, card number, but this also includes photos/videos), but you can keep them for your personal use.

I also guess(although I can't remember nor do I have time to check that now) that there's some special case allowing you to show other people when it comes to some public events; television does that all the time.

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There is a nice summary available on Wikimedia describing how the consent rules vary by country: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Commons:Country_specific_consent_requirements

Similar page allows to check the local freedom of panorama rules: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Commons:Freedom_of_panorama

Each street photographer has their own style and work ethics but from my experience, whatever the law permits, one should never sneak but rather be very open with the intention of taking the picture and smile a lot (nothing beats that one). This helps to avoid many unpleasant situations and makes the trip more enjoyable.

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