Photography – Public V’s Private Property & Copyright Law in Ireland.

Photography – Public V’s Private Property and who owns the Copyright.

If you can see it from a public place it’s all yours to photograph. This beautiful thatched cottage in Donegal was taken from a public road. Even if the owner was standing at the door, he or she would have no right to object as they are visible from a public place. However, if I climbed over the fence to get the shot, I would be breaking the law and I could be prosecuted for invasion of privacy and or trespassing.  It’s in Donegal so I expect the owners would have been happy to pose in front of their gorgeous house.

While it’s usually pretty obvious what is public and what is private, don’t base your decision on the fact that there are lots of pedestrians walking about.

A Shopping Centre or The Financial Services Centre (IFSC) are two good examples. While these are open to the public, they are in private ownership. The owners generally have no problem with people taking family/tourist style photos but bring a fashion model into your shots and they would be within their rights to ask you to leave unless you had required permission in advance. Setting up a tripod is clearly a health & safety issue for them and they may require you to show proof of public liability insurance before granting you permission. It should be added that they have no right to ask you to delete images or confiscate your equipment but they could take an action against you if you used the photos commercially. Having said that, I’ve never heard of such a court case.

Examples of tourist attractions on private property where the owners are quite happy for you to take photos without seeking permission:

‘The Fiddler of Dooney’ by Imogen Stuart at Stillorgan Village Shopping Centre.

Sculpture of William Orpen by Rowan Gillespie at The Talbot Hotel, Stillorgan, Dublin.

No Right to Privacy:

The people in the following two photos can expect ‘no right to privacy’ as they are in a public place or at a public event. However, some people are ignorant of the law and may harass you. If so, to keep the peace, offer to send them a low res copy via WhatsApp and you could brand it with “photo by …….”. This would prevent them from using the photo commercially.

St Stephen’s Green is a public park (Owned by The Office of Public Works). Again you require permission to take photos for commercial purposes (including weddings).

St Stephen’s Green, Dublin.

Dalkey Vintage Festival.

Don’t take photos of strangers dining in a restaurant. However, if they are sitting outside the restaurant and can be seen from a public place then they have no right to object.

While it may be legal to photograph children in public, this is best avoided unless you have consent from a parent or guardian.

Who owns the copyright?

Irish Copyright and Related Rights Act, 2000.

The law states that the photographer, musician, artist, author etc. owns the copyright till 70 years after his or her death (link at end of post). In the case of photography, it does not mean photographers can do as they please with commissioned images. If I’m commissioned to photograph a wedding for example and I use or sell one of those images for any purpose other than what I was commissioned to do (supply a wedding album), without the consent of the bride & groom, they can sue me. Likewise, if the bride & groom use (paid or not) one of my images of their wedding commercially without my consent, I can sue them.

Just because you found it on the web, bought a book, a CD or a painting, does not mean you now own the copyright and can use it as you please. You are not exonerated just because the painting or photograph is of your face. If you use or copy what someone else created (whether you get paid or not) without the artists permission, you are in breach of copyright law. Saying you didn’t know who the creator was is a bit like saying “I didn’t realise there was a speed limit Your Honour”.

There are lots of court cases to prove this, a Copy Shop argued that they assumed they were exempt because their copy machine was self service so the staff didn’t see the photographers logo, they lost the case. Another photographer who was commissioned to do a shoot for a companies Annual Report subsequently saw one of his photographs reproduced on an advertising poster in an airport and he successfully sued the company. 

Irish Museums and Art Galleries

Many galleries seem to have relaxed the ‘No Photographs’ rule, as the security guards were exhausted chasing everyone with a mobile phone. However, using flash on art work is clearly a stupid thing to do as it eventually causes fading to these carefully preserved works.

You may see a sign “Do Not Photograph” on some paintings, this is probably because they are on loan from another gallery or the artist is not out of copyright (not dead over 70 years). Galleries get much needed revenue by licensing the use of their collection and if you take a photo of a painting which is technically out of copyright, you then own the copyright of your image and can reproduce it as you see fit.

Photo in an Art gallery. Painting of Capt. Woods by William Orpen.

My own legal battles: –

I personally sued two National Irish Newspapers for stealing my images and was awarded €14,000 and €20,000 respectively. So don’t take it for granted, the risk can be quite high.

I had another case where a guy tried to sue me after he saw my photo of him rowing a currach on the Liffey which was published in a magazine. He phoned me and demanded I pay for the restoration of another currach and supply him with a life size enlargement of the image as payment. I failed to enlighten him on the law about taking photographs in public so he sent me a solicitors letter. I replied to the solicitor that I was going to report her to The Law Society for attempted extortion. While her client was clearly ignorant of the law, she was not. She apologised for the ‘misunderstanding‘ and that was the end of the matter.

Public Photography in Other Countries: –


America is listed in the top 5 worst trained police forces in the world. They are basically traffic wardens with guns, their main purpose is to generate revenue for the city from traffic violations. The average US street cop has little or no knowledge of the law. This leads to an atrocious record of police arresting people for taking photos in public, in spite of the fact that photography from a public place is protected by the American Constitution and in spite of the vast sums of money awarded in compensation annually to photographers for false arrest. One day (hopefully) they will realise that the millions of dollars spent every year on settling law suits would be better spent on training the police in the first place.

Meantime, they continue to harass photographers on a daily basis. They try every trick in the book – “May I have your ID so I know who I’m talking to?” which is a nice way of saying I want to check you for outstanding warrants so I can arrest you and teach you a lesson for filming me! They also use stupid phrases like “Suspicious Activity” and “In This Day and Age”. They have yet to come to terms with the fact that in “This Day and Age” everyone over the age of seven carries a camera which in turn has led to thousands of Cops getting caught red handed violating citizens rights so it’s understandable that they hate the sight of a camera. Much of their paranoia also comes from their brainwashed military style upbringing.

In most States the Cops enjoy a thing called ‘Qualified Immunity‘ which means they can do whatever they like and not be personally prosecuted. That includes beating you black & blue and even killing you. American Cops kill an average of 1000 citizens a year, so do be careful where you point your camera!

South America

Mexico for example make no secret about their corruption, they use any excuse to extort cash from tourists which is then divided out between the arresting police, the judge and your lawyer. They operate by a primitive law – ‘Guilty Until Proven Innocent’ and unless you pay cash now, they put you in a rat infested prison till your case is heard.

Muslim Countries

The locals in some Muslim countries can be quite paranoid about photography, they quote – ‘Security’, ‘Capturing their Sole’ or ‘that you have no right to reproduce what God created’. Oddly enough, many of them will be happy to let you take a photo if you pay them cash!

Link to Irish Copyright Act 2000: –


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