Q. Do I need to get written permission to film someone?
In general, it is all right to film, photograph or record people in a public setting without getting permission. Please read everything below, because there are many exceptions and nuances.
Also, bear in mind that nobody is obligated to give you permission, and you should not pressure or coerce them to.
- Always get permission before filming, recording, or photographing someone who is performing.
- Always get permission before filming, recording, or photographing someone who is speaking.
- Always get permission before filming, recording, or photographing someone's art or visual message, unless it is only incidentally in the background. (Even then, you may need permission if you are doing it for a commercial purpose.)
- Always get a parent or guardian's permission before filming, recording, or photographing minors.
- Always get permission before filming, recording, or photographing someone on private property.
- Always get permission before filming, recording, or photographing someone in a place or situation where they'd have a "reasonable expectation of privacy." For example, a home, a hotel room, a bathroom or changing room, inside a tent, behind a fence.
Private matters in a public setting
- Exercise sensitivity about filming, photographing, or recording people engaging in private biological activities, religious activities, romantic activities, or conversations about private or sensitive matters.
- If you are not sure the matter is private, use discretion in asking permission and be very polite and good natured - leave them alone immediately - if you are refused.
- If the matter is obviously private, give them their privacy and do not even ask. Definitely do not photograph, film, or record.
Protecting the safety and dignity of the disadvantaged
- Think twice about capturing the image of someone specifically because they appear different in some way that could tend to make them marginalized in society.
- People who look "different" are not off limits, but they should be not be filmed specifically because they look different. People are not exhibits or curiosities.
- It is highly inappropriate and unethical to use someone's image in a way that harms their interests or the dignity.
- If this seems inconsistent with the need for criticism and commentary in a free society, bear in mind that much greater leeway is given by US law and culture for the use of images, videos, and recordings of public figures, for exposing abuses, and for satire directed against people who have greater economic, social, and political power.