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The right of French people to take photos

I seldom encounter much in the way of verbal discussion attached to Flickr photos, because the kind of Flickr photos I usually look at are things like pictures of footbridges, concerning which there is really not a lot to be said, given how many such snaps abound on Flickr. But this snap (catchily entitled “DSC07222.JPG”) is different because it is a photo of a rather violent political demo in France. This was taken by an accredited photographer, who had his card examined by the Police but who was then permitted to keep his snap. But, says one of the commenters:

i got all the photos and videos i took yesterday on my camphone deleted by a policeman who told me he would arrest if he ever saw me doing again. I don’t know if he had the right to erase the photos, i should see about that.

Presumably not. My thanks and congratulations to Norwegian media blogger Kristine Lowe for the link to that, and for spotting the above comment. Kristine blogged earlier about the new French law.

If all French bloggers, podcasters, vodcasters, and even those snapping a picture with their mobile phone camera and sending it to a relative, could be put on trial or fined for publishing footage from the frontlines. How bizarre, troubling, surreal. …

Indeed. This is a huge issue. I was in Parliament Square not long ago and observed some hairy anti-war person being shoved into a Police van. The entire scene was surrounded by other demonstrators holding video cameras. They were subjecting to the Police themselves to surveillance, guarding the guardians you might say. I do not ever want that to be illegal in Britain, but in France, it would appear that it already is.

Expect a thriving market in fake “accredited photographer” cards. And expect things in France to get even more interesting, when, as they soon will, digital cameras become so small that it will be impossible for the Police or anybody else to spot them being used. In fact, expect things everywhere to get more interesting.

Meanwhile, I have been chronicling that brief moment when digital cameras are (were) quite small, but still visible in action.

11 comments to The right of French people to take photos

  • Sunfish

    What is an “accredited photographer?” Is this related, somehow, to the publisher’s permit mentioned in another thread here? (context was a Frenchman and an American publishing a newsletter, and our friend from overseas was a little surprised that no permit was required)

    I can see a cop making trouble for a photographer pointing an unknown object at him when it could be a weapon. However, I don’t see how it applies here. I went through the academy back in the 1990′s, and they told us to plan on being on camera pretty much any time we went out in public.

  • What strikes me is the sheer desperation on the part of the French political establishment which is implied by the existence of such a law and by the apparent ruthlessness of the police in enforcing it. They must be pretty afraid of such photos.

    Evidently the establishment is very nervous about what might happen if any evidence or reminders of the breakdown of law and order in the streets were to be brought to the attention of the public. Perhaps they fear that people would be up in arms about it. Let’s hope they’re right.

    Many cell phones can now take fairly decent photos, and it is very hard to detect that people in a crowd are using them for this purpose. The internet makes it easy to distribute such photos without identifying who took them. This outrageous law will not be very effective for long.

  • Terry Wrist

    Photographer’s card, Journalist’s card: Khoa San Road, Bangkok. Passport photo, 800 baht, 15 minutes. Get a David Blunkett driving licence while you’re there. And if you feel your academic qualifications need a little enhancement … Just call me Doc.

  • Italian police stopped me from photographing a very calm scene outside a Roman airport in 2005, just because. My fiancé was unsurprised by this, and said it was par for the course with many countries’ police forces. I was quite surprised, and now your post is making me think perhaps I wasn’t so wrong to be, Brian.

  • guy herbert

    You need to be careful of photographing near airports in many countries. Military, and now anti-terror, “security” – as if real spies and competent terrorists wouldn’t have more sophisticated aqnd unobtrusive methods. It is an excuse for the authorities to throw their weight around. Which is the only thing, in many countries, that the authorities are for.

    British plane-spotters have been being jailed in Greece with great regularity for decades now.

  • guy herbert

    There’s a particular problem with photographing people in France, one that arises from a state of affairs that is quite appealing to me from one point of view, that of privacy.

    As I understand it, you have the right to control your own image in France. Therefore no-one can publish an identifiable photograph you without formal permission from you, unless you are a public figure performing a public function, or unless the have a specific license to to so for the purposes of reportage. Both exceptions represent a public interest in the reporting of public events overriding a general presumption of individual privacy.

    The British approach is often in practice the other way around: anyone can be photographed in public unless the state says they can’t. (And of course you can also be punished for owning an image of a public place or event under some circumstances.)

  • NightEye

    Hi, I’m French, maybe I can share a bit of information about this.

    The official excuse for passing that law was to prevent the “happy slapping” phenomenon and such : youngsters hitting people (often by surprise) in the streets or in school and being filmed by friends while doing it.
    There was also several cases recently about teachers being assaulted in their classroom by their own pupils “for fun” and for the very purpose of making a little movie about it.
    Do I have to precise what kind of youngsters I’m talking about ?

    Then, the french government, rather than fighting against these crimes preferred to ban every citizen from filming any violent event of any kind.
    The only exception being made for professional journalists who have a state-controlled press corps member card.

  • If all French bloggers, podcasters, vodcasters, and even those snapping a picture with their mobile phone camera and sending it to a relative, could be put on trial or fined for publishing footage from the frontlines…..

    …..then probably all the police and courts in France could not handle the resulting workload. Perhaps this is one problem that really can be solved by everyone ignoring it.

    The explanations by Guy Herbert and NightEye show that there can be justification for restricting photography in certain cases (though surely assaulting a person is already illegal, and a video of the act is simply evidence of the crime). But if these issues were the original reason for the law, it is obviously being massively abused now, with the police using it to suppress embarrassing facts rather than discourage crime.

    France is in the middle of a Presidential election campaign right now, and this photography law is surely a matter of great concern to the media. Are they badgering Sarkozy and Royal to promise to end the abuse of the law if elected? They should be!

  • Ted Schuerzinger

    Infidel 753 wrote:

    France is in the middle of a Presidential election campaign right now, and this photography law is surely a matter of great concern to the media.

    Yeah — they’re probably concerned about keeping it restrictive, so that they can maintain their monopoly….

  • Sunfish

    NightEye:

    Then, the french government, rather than fighting against these crimes preferred to ban every citizen from filming any violent event of any kind.
    The only exception being made for professional journalists who have a state-controlled press corps member card.

    It’s easier to jump on people with cameras than it is to solve unknown-suspect assaults. I know of departments (actually, Federal Homeland Security agencies rather than real police) even here in the US who are like that.

    If France requires special credentials to take news photographs or publish stories, does the licensing authority try to control content? And how does that affect blogs in France?

  • ian

    The same thing has happened in the UK – in one case to Austin Mitchell MP, I think when he took a photo of the queues to register for the Labour Party conference!