Do we need subject permission before snapping a sports picture?

17/04/2010 | By Claudio_VL | Comments: 0

I will be returning to the UK after two years in Atlanta and two in Singapore, and I better get used again to the "you will be filmed fifty times a day by CCTVs, but damned if you take a picture" approach. Here in Singapore it does not matter where I am, there are always at least a dozen chaps with big DSLRs (and sometimes Lomos) taking pictures of everything, from ants on the ground to skyscrapers, and including the food they have at the restaurant. In the US (in Georgia), I was asked why I was taking a picture of a magnificent building in midtown Atlanta ("Because it?s magnificent, sir!"), and in other occasions I was given wary looks when I took pictures of dams, bridges and anything vaguely remarkable. I was lucky none of the wary bystanders were Jack Bauer-style proactive ...

We all know taking picture is becoming increasingly difficult, from a legal standpoint. So, not being a pro photographer, I wondered whether the subject of a photo taken during a sports event can claim that the photographer has no right of taking that picture, on grounds of privacy violation.

As an amateur sport photographer, in the last few months I have taken plenty of pictures of triathlon, fencing, sailing, football (soccer). These competitions were photographed without having an official assignment, without having to pay a ticket (and therefore without a recorded entry in the event venue), and in public places (with the exception of the fencing competition). For instance, I recently photographed the Singapore Ironman 70.3 triathlon competition which took place in a public park (the run), on a public road (the cycling segment) and in the Singapore Strait (the swim). I have offered free pictures to several race participants, those I could manage to find contact details for, and they were all between thankful and enthusiastic about the offer, but I wonder if any of my subjects might actually complain feeling that their privacy has been violated.

Based on common sense, I believe somebody?s expectation of privacy should be considerably lowered, when this person dons his/her sports gear and takes part in a sports event on public land.

A further ramification: what if I take pictures in the above described scenario, and then find somebody ? a sports magazine, a sports gear shop ? interested in publishing one of my pictures in exchange of money? Would the subject of the image have any right to claim a share of the money I receive?

I posted the above questions at, and I quickly received an answer from Linda Macpherson ("Linda Macpherson LL.B, Dip. L.P., LL.M is a freelance legal consultant specialising in Media Law and Intellectual Property Law. She is also a part-time law lecturer and has presented seminars on law for photographers."): Linda explained that participants in a public event in a public place do not generally have the right to complain for a privacy violation, if somebody takes pictures of them during that public event. "Generally" is the key word here: there might be exceptions to the above, cases in which the expectation of privacy is not lowered by the fact that the event is public and on public grounds. And, in case you wonder, I have not encountered one such situation yet.

Linda then answered my other question. A photographer (amateur or professional) can sell a picture to a magazine, and the subject of the picture is not entitled to any shares of the profit the photographer makes with the sale/licensing of the image. If the photographer sells the picture to a sports gear shop, the situation can be different: based on Linda's reply (and on documentation found elsewhere on the Net), I have to assume that whenever the subject of a picture (any type of picture, not just sports ones) seems to endorse a product, you have to obtain his/her written permission. In the case of a sports gear shop, I believe a picture would need to be kept very far away from any product available in the shop, to the impression that the person depicted endorses any product.

You can read the full reply from Linda Macpherson at On the same page you can also download for free the "UK photographers rights guide", which is a good starting point to learn what are the legal limits of your photographic activity.

Tags: photographers rights, privacy

Comments (0)Comment this blog post

There are no comments yet

Security check

Please answer the question using one single word (no digits).
Six minus four

Formatting codes