Australian photographer charged with “disorderly behavior causing offense” for street photography


posted Thursday, April 4, 2013 at 1:01 PM EST


The last few years have seen many photographers in the United States run into police trouble for photographing the wrong building or place, but generally street photography of people has remained free of hassle. But in Australia, a photographer has just been convicted of "disorderly behavior causing offense" for legally photographing someone in public, simply because the person being photographed didn't like it.

Photographer Julian Tennant originally posted the story on his Facebook page about a fellow photographer in Perth who has fallen afoul of the law for taking photographs in the street during New Year's celebrations. The page has since been removed, but the full text is up on a discussion in Reddit. According to Tennant's description, his friend Al was snapping shots of revelers with his iPhone, when a man became belligerent for having his girlfriend's picture taken. The man then grabbed the photographer's phone, and took it to a police officer, complaining that Al hadn't asked permission. Despite this being legal in Australia (as it is in much of the world), the police officer took the photographer into custody "for his own protection," and charged him with "disorderly behavior causing offense by taking photographs without consent."

The thing is, in Australia, as in the U.S., if you're out in public there's no inherent right to privacy. There was no need to ask permission, especially as he was openly taking photographs. There was even CCTV footage showing that he behaved in a way that was in no way disorderly. But the fact that the person took offense was enough to get him convicted. As Tennant puts it:

"[the magistrate] confirms that under Australian law and within the circumstances of this case, Al did not need to seek the permission of the subject to take their photographs. Nor could they expect not to be photographed. So, no offense committed there.

However... and this is where it becomes scarey for us photographers. Some members of the public did object to him taking photos without permission and one photo in particular, even though he did not try to disguise what he was doing and the subject was quite happy to be in public dressed in the manner that she was. As a result his behavior did cause offense and so could be considered disorderly, so found guilty as charged."

As it stands, this is a very low level of the Australian courts, and there's plenty of room for appeal, especially as Tennant's description makes it sounds as though the magistrate felt there was need for more clarification about the specifics of the law. But for photographers in Australia, it might make them think twice about trying to capture street shots. If someone disliking what you're doing is enough to get you slapped with a court charge, that's one very convincing reason not to go snapping shots in the streets.

(via Reddit)