Capturing a Moment of Controversy: The Implications of Public Photography

When we think about photography in a public sphere, it is difficult to presumably realise the presence (and lack of) photography laws. Stated in black-and-white on the Arts Law Centre of Australia website (2017), there currently exist no firm publicity or personality rights in Australia in which a person’s image is protected. Therefore, this brings into question the ethical boundaries and subsequent ambiguousness that photography captures in a public place.

An article written by Jessica Lake (The Conversation Media Group Ltd 2014) discusses the exact conflicts that exist within street photography. Most particularly, she examines how the transformation of the camera from an expensive, complicated device has become a relatively easy-to-use and ubiquitous device that lets us partake in moments of ‘life’ sharing. However despite the intended positive usage of photography, the free-nature of photography-taking unfortunately leaves issues of consent, publication and privacy unanswered and hard to resolve. Furthermore, this is also exemplified and complicated by the nature of social media due to the everlasting presence an image can hold on such platforms.

In regards to the ethical considerations of street photography, or rather, photography in a public place, it is crucial to address the subject’s own representation in the image. For example, a British journalist was found to be humiliated after she discovered a photograph of herself easing a salad circulating on social media sites (Lake, The Conversation Media Group Ltd 2014). The photograph was apparently posted on the Facebook group ‘Women Who Eat on Tubes’ and underlines the lack of consent in photography and consequential exhaustive nature social media has (Lake, The Conversation Media Group Ltd 2014).

A public space is defined as a social space that is open and accessible to all. Generally, individuals have rights to take photographs and video content with people in them. However, it is when these media platforms become offensive or of defamation that this can be considered a crime. This obviously more so correlates into sexually explicit material being photographed or videoed, and even stalking behaviours (Lawstuff 2013). However, while these instances will certainly build a more arguable framework of ethical behaviour, it is in cases like the one mentioned above that question an individual’s need or broader purpose to photograph an individual that may damage their public reputation.

Additionally, a case in which two Sydney couples had to pay a $15, 000 legal bill following social media defamation case shows the implications of photography being used in a demeaning manner (Dunn, News Limited Copyright 2015). The Australian residents apparently posted pictures online of their neighbour that claimed he was a “highly volatile individual” and also suggested abusive and threatening behaviours aimed at women and children (Fairfax, cited in Dunn, News Limited Copyright 2015). The couple then posted these defaming comments and photograph on online social media platform, Facebook. Thus as a result, the neighbour then claimed that this negative publicity harmed his reputation within the community as it falsely accused him of being mentally unstable, violent and breaching social conventions (Dunn, News Limited Copyright 2015). As a result even the Judge running the court case stated this case was of serious defamation (Dunn, News Limited Copyright 2015).

So while we may see photography in a public space as being an arena of freedom, this freedom is most certainly dictated by ethical boundaries. However it is the mere individual’s decision to consider ethical actions that make online photography become a much more risky and possibly offensive method of communication. As examined from the cases above, a simple photograph that depicts an individual has the ability to infiltrate the newsfeed of a multitude of online audiences. Therefore it is critical to undertake actions of consent, as this will essentially refrain from any photography behaviour being deemed controversial and open to indecency debate.



Arts Law Centre of Australia, 2017, ‘Street Photographer’s Rights,’ viewed August 28th <>

Dunn M, 2015, News Limited Copyright, ‘Lawyer discusses dangers of social media defamation following horror story of Sydney couple’, viewed August 29th <>

Lake J, 2014, The Conversation Media Group Ltd, ‘Is it OK for people to take pictures of you in public and publish them?’ viewed August 29th <>

Lawstuff, 2013, ‘Photos & Videos on Your Phone,’ viewed August 28th <>




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