The issue of photography in public places has been of great interest to most photographers alike, as more often than not, they create photographs in such public places.
I’ll first deal with the general position on photography in public places, and perhaps in a future installment, touch on some rare exceptions which may beat the general rule.
Public Places vs Private Places
The first step is to determine whether the “public place” we are talking about is in fact, a public place in the legal sense.
In my view, a public place is not the same as a privately-owned place with public access.
For example, a shopping mall is not exactly a public place, but is actually a private place with public access (ie the shopping mall owners allow members of the public to freely access it)
A public place would be a place such as the public road, public pavement or footways etc.
In general, an owner of a private place per se will have the right to evict anyone who comes on his premises, and in fact, such entrance can be considered as trespass. For example, if I go into your home without permission, I can be said to trespass into your home.
In the case of a private place with public access, the situation is slightly different. In such a case, even though the place is owned by a private entity, that entity has decided to open up its premises to public access, such as a shopping mall as seen earlier.
Being still a private place nonetheless, the private place owner can set whatever rules he wishes you to comply with if you want to enter or continue to remain on his premises. If he does not like what you are doing, they can revoke the right of entry and evict you from the premises. If after eviction you persist in entering or staying, then you become a trespasser.
In the case of a true public place, such as a public road, no private entity (ie only the police or Government) can stop you from being there; and usually the police or Government will cite some other specific provision for denying you the right to be there.
As an example of the locations given; my view on each are as follows:
1. Singapore streets – public place
2. Shopping malls / areas – private place with public access
3. Private places (Office complex, concert hall, hotel) Interior & exterior
– usually more private than in (2) above, may or may not provide public access, and even then, public access is stricter with more rules and conditions.
4. Eateries (Restaurants / Kopitiam / Koufu etc etc)
– same as (2), private place with public access.
Where Are You Standing?
Now that we have established the differences between a public and private place, the next issue to discuss is where you are standing on.
In my view, whether you can take a picture of
a certain object, depends more on where you are standing, as opposed to where the object is located.
If you are standing on a public road, it does not matter whether you are taking a photo of the public road (public place) or a photo of a shopping mall (private place with public access) or even the interior of an office building (private place, usually without public access).
The reason is very simple; a party can only object to your photography if you are standing on an area over which he has jurisdiction or control of.
If you are standing on a public road, the private entity owning the object you are shooting, does not have jurisdiction or control over that road, and hence, cannot stop you from shooting.
The same would go for a shop displaying merchandise. So long as you stand outside of his shop (on the public road perhaps) and shoot into his shop, the shop owner has no right to stop you from taking photos of his merchandise.
The shop owner has the right to stop you from entering his shop, but not to take photographs of
his shop whilst you are standing outside
No Photography Signs
A no photography sign can be taken as a condition of entry to a particular place, especially if it is posted at the entrance of the place.
In such a case, the owner of that place can evict someone who deliberately starts taking photographs inside that place.
An important issue is where the sign is placed, and whether sufficient notice of its existence is given to members of the public entering that place. If the sign is placed in an obscure corner, then it could be argued that insufficient notice was provided to the member of the public.
If however the sign is prominently displayed at the entrance of that place, the owner of the place can put forth an argument to say that you are trespassing, because you did not comply with the condition of entry.
Nevertheless, in an actual situation, it is more likely than not that the owner would simply ask you to leave, rather than to charge you with trespass at the outset. It is likely that they will only proceed to charge you with trespass after you refuse to leave, remain on the premises, and continue to flout their no-photography rule.
What about my photographs? Can the owner confiscate or force me to delete them?
The right of a private place owner to evict someone from his premises does not extend to the right to confiscate photographs that you have taken whilst on his premises.
A private place owner has no right over your property nor can he ask you to surrender your property, confiscate them, or compel you to delete your photographs.
If the private place owner attempts to detain you, confine you, forcibly taking possession of your camera, forcibly deleting your photos etc, they will expose themselves to criminal offences such as theft, robbery, criminal intimidation, wrongful restraint/confinement, computer misuse etc.
Those who attempt to forcibly push you into a room will face possible criminal liability exposure for criminal force.
In conclusion on the discussion on photography in public and private places in Singapore, so long as you are on a public place, there is very little that someone can do to stop you from taking photographs.
If you are in a private place, the most that can happen to you is that you will be asked to leave, but no one can compel you to delete or surrender your photographs.
I hope that this has been helpful to every one of you reading this post and you now have a better idea of your rights when photographing in a public or private place.