What is the United States’ law in regards to webcam and video capturing in public places?

Joseph Videtto January 10, 2013
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I live in the United States. Sometimes in the course of my day, I witness something very interesting (almost always involving other people) that I think “I would love to capture this on audio or video, and make a movie out of it.”

Hence my question – “What is the law regarding taking webcams and video in public places? – especially if you want to:
1.) splice the video into a movie that you dream of selling to an interested buyer.
2.) splice the video (without audio) only into a movie that you dream of selling to an interested buyer.
3.) splice the audio (without video) only into a movie that you dream of selling to an interested buyer.

How about if you add “face-blurring” to the video – can you then maybe use it? Especially if you’ve truly hidden the identity of the person.

What’s the legal way to do something like this – do you have to inform the video’ed people prior to the videoing, and pay them royalties to do this the fair way? Informing them before would lose the spontaneity I’d like to capture – remember “Candid Camera” lol

And what websites would most clearly explain the (United States) law on this topic? How about other countries – are the laws different regarding this question in, e.g. Europe or some other country you live in?

  1. Kymberli Hemberger
    January 12, 2013 at 11:09 am

    There's not a presumption of 'privacy' when you're in public.

  2. Noel Pinell
    January 11, 2013 at 8:45 pm

    As far as I can remember from a film school, you can do that but only in public places (no shopping malls or anything similar). If you want to sell the movie you would have to get consent from the people that appear on the movie.

  3. Jan Fritsch
    January 10, 2013 at 8:49 pm

    Since you are considering making profit of the material I strongly suggest to seek legal advice from an actual lawyer or law office.

    In Europe laws are different from country to country. But in general any data that is being processed (in this case recorded) without the persons consent or juristic necessity is a violation of the Data Protection Directive.

    There are some exceptions in certain countries for example if the area recorded is crowded and the people in the picture can be considered part of the "background".

    • Anonymous
      January 11, 2013 at 8:43 pm

      Jan - not strictly true, there is no law preventing the taking of pictures in public places, even if to be used for commercial gain.
      The UK laws broadly reflect European law, although some countries do have their own variations.

      • Jan Fritsch
        January 13, 2013 at 3:37 am

        I believe the laws for photographing, video taping or audio recordings are different.

        But my primary point is that one should rather seek legal advice from someone who has studied the law rather than an online forum. Yes, it will cost money but it will also prevent a lot of problems.

  4. Newell Fisk
    January 10, 2013 at 6:52 pm

    Try google, but I think you will have to ask the people for permission to video record them. Or else you would get sued..

  5. ha14
    January 10, 2013 at 4:15 pm

    Generally speaking, it's legal in the United States to record surveillance video with a hidden camera in your home without the consent of the person you're recording. That's why the use of "nanny cams" is becoming increasingly common among parents and guardians who work outside their homes during the day.
    Outside the home, similar laws apply. It's generally legal to record surveillance video in public places — inside retail stores, restaurants or other places of business, for example. It's also legal to record covert video outdoors in parks, shopping malls, city streets or public squares.

    Public Camera Laws

    Commercial and Private Usage

    In another Supreme Court case, Justice Potter Stewart wrote for the majority, “The Fourth Amendment protects people, not places.” So what a person knowingly exposes to the public is not a subject to Fourth Amendment protection. But what he seeks to preserve as private, even in an area accessible to the public, may be constitutionally protected.
    While the right of privacy from unauthorized videotaping is not covered by the Constitution, states can pass their own laws on the issue. Florida, for instance, now has a law which attaches criminal penalties for secretly videotaping people where they have an expectation of privacy such as in a changing room or bathroom. However, it does not protect people in public places like a beach.

    now if you want to sell videos you have to ask the permission of the peoples inside the video, i suppose they are not actors.

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