10 Aug 2010

German Privacy Laws

Munich 12 Comments

One interesting point about Germany: It’s been said they have some of the world’s most strict laws protecting the individual’s privacy. Some say these regulations go too far and limit “normal” use of photos taken in public places. All we know is, (he’s called the Stig) you should be careful how you use your Germany photos.

Altes Rathaus, Marienplatz

Just so you’re aware, here are some discussions I’ve found (in English) giving details about the restrictions. If you plan to put any photos online in a public place, you should follow these to avoid someone contacting you to ask, “Please take my photo down!” Note that I couldn’t find anything in German that I was able to understand, and I suspect the official legal documents are even unreadable to a native speaker.

Photo.net – Photography in Germany (go to the “People” section under “Responses”)

Street Photography Watercooler article (more specific to shots of single persons)

From what I interpret:

  • It’s not illegal to take pictures of people. Only to publish those pictures without their consent. (but on this item I am not clear!)
  • Publishing single-person zoom shots on sites like Facebook, Flickr, or Picasa is a violation of the subject’s privacy.
  • Shooting “single persons” is worse than shooting people who happen to be in a scene; the above Altes Rathaus shot is an example of a scene. I could never photograph or reproduce it without having at least a few people in there. Therefore my personal decision is, blur out the people who happen to be recognizable in the scene.
  • Exceptions where you are allowed to publish: a public figure (in a non-embarrassing pose); people who cannot be recognized (e.g. spectators at a sporting event). My personal decision is that public performers (e.g. Eisbach surfers and street performers) are placing themselves as a public figure. Of course I also only display nice photos of them, anyway.
  • You may not make suggestions about or by the people in the photos, for example a caption under the waving politician saying “I endorse Pampers baby diapers!”

So, to make it short: be careful what you do with pictures of people taken in Germany. Honestly, chances are no one will complain and ask you to take them down. But there is a small risk of a “cease-and-desist” order or court action! If you do publish pictures with recognizable people, make sure you don’t put up anything embarrassing that could lead to a big lawsuit.

The Fine Print: this advice is not to be taken as legal, professional, or official advice. I make no guarantees or promises about its validity.

If anyone has some further links to more concrete advice (in an understandable format), I’ll be happy to add them here!

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12 Responses to “German Privacy Laws”

  1. Google Street View allowing Germany to opt-out | Search Engine Optimisation BlackDog says:

    [...] easy to use, and filling in the many holes in what other services offer. While I realise that Germany’s privacy laws on photography of people are stringent, I really don’t understand why this could extend to an image of your [...]

  2. Dave says:

    Thanks for the link – very interesting to know how Germany’s strict laws are affecting big corporations like Google!

  3. Dirk says:

    The picture on top is absolutely fine. The people there are merely incidental to the subject of the picture. So, there is no need to blur them.

    • Dave says:

      Yes, I figure it’s probably OK, but haven’t found more detailed legal descriptions. Better safe than sued.

  4. Bill says:

    I was at a Christmas Fair in Dorfmark (near Hanover) recently. Having taken a photo of a stall, I was rapidly approached by a very angry, rotund, bearded, multi-coloured-striped sweat-shirt wearing Herman who tried to grab my expensive camera. As I was on public land and was taking a photo of a scene, I thought that his behaviour was unacceptable.

    • Dave says:

      Absolutely. I could see someone complaining if you zoom in and portrait their face, but snapping scene photos in a public place? We are probably on camera a significant percentage of time in public (security cams especially).

      The only legal issue I found, is if you then *post* Hermie’s photo somewhere on the internet, or sell it (without his permission). Then you could easily be in trouble. IF he ever found said photo.

  5. Judy says:

    I like that these restrictions are in place. Nobody wants theor picture to be plastered all over the place.

  6. Jonathan Adami says:

    The inacceptable thing is the german usual way of communicating with strangers. I live in Berlin since 2 years now, and as much as I have to say that all the german people I know are extremely cool, most of the people I don’t know are usually unfriendly right away! I guess that with all those constrictive laws they stack anger for a while, and if you’re the poor guy passing by, you get the release :-)

    I really have to dig further but at which point can you ask for private rights in a public space?
    I mean, you don’t wanna be seen smoking weed, or kissing another girl in a park or in the street… so dont! do it at home where it’s literally private! if you do it on a park, you “expose” yourself voluntarily and you know that your boss can eventually pass by and see you… you can still “hope” that it doesn’t happen but preventing people from taking and showing pictures of it is a bit like asking everyone to close eyes while they are out walking… We never know what your eyes could catch!

    Anyway, if this is the law, I really think that the whole problem is turned upside down. I’ll continue on taking pictures that I consider “ok” and “respectful” meaning “not hurtful”, “not intrusive” or anything and post them on flickr… If I get a lawsuit I’ll move out ^^

    Thanks a lot for those links and the summarize, I’ll try to read everything!

    • Dave says:

      Jonathan, I hear what you mean – a lot of people here are very inwardly focused as they walk around and you’d better not disturb them.

      I find that as long as I’m not shooting a closeup of people’s faces, they have no right to bother me about taking pictures. But I am wary of what I post and where (at least, if the photos taken are in Germany).

      It’s true, you never know when your boss (or just about anyone else) may walk by. I met a former intern of mine (from the US) on a Munich subway train a few years back. Small world!

    • Rick says:

      Great post Jonathan. I totally agree. I’ve been googling ‘photographer’s rights in Germany’ because I’ve experienced so much hostility from the public – and yes, in public places! Shame too as Berlin is such a photogenic place and it brings so many restrictions.. :-(

  7. Calatorie-Fotografie says:

    What surprises me is that I used to know German law regarding photography had at its basis the principle of Panoramafreiheit – that anything you see from the public space is allowed to be photographed – as long as you don’t take portraits, of course.

    However, it’s been more than a decade since I’ve been to Germany, when the atmosphere was usually friendly.

    The advice in the article is highly useful, thanks for the update.

  8. Mario B. says:

    Johnatan, don’t think you got the point of privacy rights: there is a huge diggerence between doing something in a park and having a picture taken. To start with, the risk to be seen by oerson “x” is something you can estimate much better (e.g. My boss is in the officee, he’ll never see me). Pictures are off your hands and you never know who’s going to see them.
    Second photos are potentially perpetual, memory doesn’t fade away: the memory of somebody who spotted me in the park 5 years ago starts to fade.
    Finally, if somebody spots me in the park is his word vs mine. Photos are hard proves.

    About people in public places in Germany, it is OK if they are a very small component of the picture, not the subject, and if accidetally cought when retracting a said public place. They must respect the dignity of the individual and not portrait anybody in embarrassing, humiliating, denigrating or dishonouring way.