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All right, so, here's the scenario:

A friend or family member invites you to their house, you happily come over, and inside you notice that they have, say, a framed picture or write up.

Would it be legal to take a picture of this, without permission, if you have no intention of publishing it and/or putting it online?

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    First: legal where? – mattdm Aug 18 '16 at 17:38
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    It sounds like you are describing making reproductions of existing art ("a framed picture") or documents ("write-up"). Is that what you want to ask about specifically? The answer for that may be very different from the answer for, say, taking pictures of a sofa. – mattdm Aug 18 '16 at 17:39
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    @mattdm just to be clear, I was specifically asking about taking a photo of a picture/writeup that they have for the sake of having my own copy. – warspyking Aug 18 '16 at 18:11
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    Just because you disagree and think your version is better does not make you right. And, you are not. The first recorded application of copyright that I am aware of (and no doubt far from the first) was in about 570 AD when an Irish High King ruled that a missionary and Saint had no right to copy a document [1] (history says it was most likely a Psalter) for the sake of his having his own copy. 3000 people died in the subsequent argy-bargy. ... – Russell McMahon Aug 19 '16 at 6:59
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because It is a legal issue. – Rafael Aug 19 '16 at 19:58
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If you are talking about taking a picture of an existing piece of art — "a framed picture" — the answer in most jurisdictions is probably no. Under the Berne Convention, which covers 172 countries, the creator of a work automatically has copyright over any artwork as soon as it is produced — and that includes creating a derivative work. Taking a photograph of another piece of art either creates a derivative work (if it is transformative), or just is that piece of work (if it isn't considered transformative). Either way, the copyright holder is legally in control.

This covers personal, non-commercial use as well. Now, you may be able to make a "fair use" case in some limited circumstances — but those circumstances are more limited than most people imagine.

If the copyright of the artwork is held by your host, I suggest... just asking. For the circumstances you describe, verbal permission is probably sufficient for all reasonable practical cases. If, on the other hand, the art is, for example, a photograph produced by a different artist, your host may not actually hold copyright and therefore not, from a legal standpoint, have the ability to give permission.

(Of course, from a practical sense, if your host doesn't mind and you're not using the result anywhere else, no one will ever be the wiser — but from strict legal reading, you're probably out of bounds.)

If, instead, you are talking about general photographs taken in someone's house, take a look at for a number of questions discussing various circumstances. And, if it's a mix — a random shot which happens to contain a copyrighted work, know that this is a legal gray area where the legal resolution may not be immediately apparent.

Disclaimer: I'm not a lawyer. If you're in a situation where you need actual legal advice (like you took a photo at someone's house and are now in a dispute), please don't rely on random advice you find on the Internet.

  • He used the term "without permission" which could mean of host and/or copyright owner. If the former then it's usually illegal regardless of copyright issues. – Russell McMahon Aug 18 '16 at 18:07
  • Thanks for both the legal and practical answer. This question was mostly satisfy my curiosity because I wasn't sure how it would work, and I'm always thirsty for knowledge haha – warspyking Aug 18 '16 at 18:08
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    @RussellMcMahon I would say it's "usually really sticky" rather than necessarily "usually illegal". A lot of all that is covered under property-release questions. But I'd also put it the other way: if the situation is as it seems to be asked, it's illegal regardless of any issues around expectation of privacy. – mattdm Aug 18 '16 at 18:08
  • @mattdm Lets do an arithmetic add -> Usually really sticky AND illegal. ie if I point my camera with a long lens into your home (so what the camera sees is more than a casual glance by eye would show) and take a photograph it's illegal in NZ and I think in US and UK and probably on most other places. It doesn't matter even if you have a reasonably high expectation that the owner will not mind. If they decided to take exception for whatever reason you'd be 'in trouble' legally. In most cases you have a fair idea how it will work out in real world situations, but ... . – Russell McMahon Aug 19 '16 at 2:56
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In the US, taking pictures on private property without the permission of the property owner is illegal. This is why security guards can and will stop you from taking pictures at, say, the Westfield chain of malls. First Amendment rights only apply if you are on public property and your subjects have no reasonable right to privacy.

A person in their own home has their right to privacy. And by taking pictures of them, their home, or their belongings, is invading that privacy. To quote from The Photographer's Right (bold mine):

... Property owners may legally prohibit photography on their premises but have no right to prohibit others from photographing their property from other locations. ... In any case, when a property owner tells you not to take photographs while on the premises, you are legally obligated to honor the request. ...

and:

... Members of the public have a very limited scope of privacy rights when they are in public places. Basically, anyone can be photographed without their consent except when they have secluded themselves in places where they have a reasonable expectation of privacy such as dressing rooms, restrooms, medical facilities, and inside their homes.

  • For the sake of argument, I wasn't told not to take pictures, and their "stuff" doesn't have an expectation of privacy iirc, only the person does. – warspyking Aug 18 '16 at 18:43
  • @warspyking The person and their property are both covered under expectation of privacy on private property in the United States. There is plenty of established case law to support this. – Michael C Aug 18 '16 at 22:48
  • @warspyking iirc -> ydnrc , as inkista notes. Or, at best, the privacy of a person extends to their property and also applies whether or not they are present. IANAL (PTL :-) ) but I suspect you'd have a hard job arguing your perspective if anyone decided to be intolerant of such acts, – Russell McMahon Aug 19 '16 at 2:59
  • This was a fascinating answer that I learned from. Thanks for the answer. – warspyking Aug 19 '16 at 4:06

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