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Can I take pictures of the outside of someone's house without consent? What if nobody owns the house and it is on sale?

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    Somebody or something always owns the house, ultimately the government. – Philip Kendall Sep 20 at 22:13
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    In what country? And what are you doing with the photos? – vclaw Sep 20 at 22:19
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    In many countries you can take the pictures freely, but publishing them would be a different matter. – xenoid Sep 21 at 8:14
  • @vclaw Would it be okay in the U.S.? – Krish Sep 21 at 14:04
  • @xenoid I'm not publishing them. It is merely for an architecture project. Would that be fine? – Krish Sep 21 at 14:05
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Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. The information below is general in nature and should not be taken as specific legal advice. If you have a specific legal question you should consult an attorney practicing in your jurisdiction that is familiar with the law and case history regarding the issues you wish to address.

The following general information is based on the assumption you are located in the United States or a country with similar laws regarding where and when making photographs of others' property is allowed.


In most countries that follow the Berne convention with regard to copyright laws, which includes the United States, the laws regarding taking photos of private property that can be seen from public areas is usually also very similar. The following applies to the U.S. but many other countries are similar.

In the United States, there is no expectation of privacy when in a public space. The courts, including the United States Supreme Court, have ruled on numerous occasions that even private property that is visible from public spaces is not protected by privacy laws. As long as one is standing in a location that can be legally accessed by any member of the general public, one is free to photograph whatever one can see.

There are some qualifications, though. If a property has a tall fence around it that prevents a pedestrian from seeing over the fence, it's not okay to use a ladder or a bucket truck to rise above the fence and take photos of what is inside the fence. With the advent of drone cameras, this legal doctrine had been expanded to include such remotely controlled devices.

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I think officially it's not needed, although it depends per country (I'm from the Netherlands).

It might also depend if they are published or are used on public internet sites (and the context in which they are published).

Side story:

Some time ago my parents had their 50 year wedding anniversary, and I made pictures of the houses they lived. I rang the door bell to ask explaining the situation; nobody gave a problem. For those who were not home I couldn't ask. But these pictures where only show to like 100 people once.

My advice

I would say: ask if you can, if not, too bad, but on the other hand they might even let you on their property to make a nicer picture. And of course if you are a decent photographer, you can give them the (post processed?) picture and the link to the website or copy of the medium in case it is published.

Update

Google street view and some other navigation companies also make photos of houses without asking (as long as they are themselves on public property).

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    Agree for United States, assuming that you are on public property. But, watch for privacy issues, if you can see people in the windows, be more careful. My story: I was visiting New England and wanted to take a picture of an ancestors house, 7 generations back. I only have one chance, I will probably never be in this town again. It is almost dark, but with a tripod I think that I can get something. I work fast, hoping that a policeman doesn't drive by, and doesn't believe my story, – Mattman944 Sep 21 at 13:12
  • @Mattman944 Nice story and useful info. – Michel Keijzers Sep 21 at 14:19
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    Even if it is dark, if you are standing at street/sidewalk level it is perfectly legal in the U.S. to take photos of a house on adjoining private property. It's also perfectly legal for a policeman to ask you what you are doing. But as long as the officer does not have reasonable suspicion (which has been defined by mountains of case law) that a crime has been committed, you are not legally required to answer such questions, either. If you are standing in the middle of the street with a tripod set up, though, you may be breaking traffic regulations which the policeman is entitled to enforce. – Michael C Sep 21 at 20:28
  • @MichaelC - Agree, what I was doing was legal, but many people, including policemen, don't know the laws. I looked suspicious and didn't want a confrontation with anyone. – Mattman944 Sep 22 at 1:49
  • @Mattman944 Most of them know the laws. They are hoping you do not know the laws and will voluntarily reveal something to them that the law does not require you to reveal to them. – Michael C Sep 22 at 7:00
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In the US you can photograph anything you can see from a public place (the street, for example) and you can use it editorially in any media, but what you can NOT do with that image is use it in an ad or in some other form, where you can relize financial gain from it.

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