I get asked this question A LOT. How do I get away with filming in public places all the time? Easy…because most of the time it is completely legal to do so!
There is a common misconception that you need permits to film in London, this is generally not the case. There are times where permits are essential, especially if you have a large crew and are causing a hazard…but if it’s just you and an assitant/ producer/ whatever and you are on a public highway, film away.
You normally get grief from two main types of people. Security guards and the Community Support Officers (affectionately know as plastic policeman). These people are normally really uneducated about the law.
The law is the same for photographers as well as for video camera operators.
The Bureau of freelance photographers in the UK have issued this card to all their memebers:
So let me give you real world examples…
You are filming a shop from the outside on a street. A security guard comes out and asks you whose permission you asked to do this. You say I don’t need permission, I am on a public highway and I can film this shop. They say I am calling the police, you say please do. Police turn up and tell security guard to go away.
I was filming in Victoria for Discovery Channel HD last year, doing a timelapse. One community support officer came up to me and said. Hi mate, what you filming? I explained, he said cool and walked off. 60 seconds later another CSO came up and asked if I had permission to film here. I said no and didn’t need it. She then said please show me your identification. I told her I left my man bag in the car and was not going to stop my time lapse for her so I could get it AND she had no right to see my ID. There is no law in the UK to provide ID on request. We have no ID card scheme. So I told her I was not going to get my ID card, she had no right to see my ID card and I was going to finish my shot and then do another one down the road. She was left speechless and walked off, spoke into her radio, then a minute later walked away. Now this shows you how one CSO knew the law and the other didn’t. Basically, stand up for yourself!
There are more sensitive areas due to the threat of terrorism like Westminster and there is now a law saying you cannot film police officers. But even there you should be OK to film. Austin Mitchell a member of Parliament for labour has launched a petition to educate the CSOs and others like them so photographers don’t get stopped, even him…an MP gets stopped by the CSOs and asked to stop shooting!!
Now as a member of the Union BECTU I do have a press card and I could easily show it to people when challenged. Often I do just because it is less grief, but often I just tell them I don’t need permission and try to educate them…then get out my press card as my patience runs out!
There are places you CANNOT film. These are generally privately owned land. Take the Covent Garden Piazza. I was filming an interview a few years back in a cafe outside. The owners of the restaurant said it was fine to film but the yellow coated security guards descended on me quickly and told me I couldn’t film there. I said why and they told me it was because I was on private land. I asked what is private land as the restaurant gave me permission? They said doesn’t matter. They lease the space from a private company and I don’t have permission to film there…I then asked them where exactly was the private land? They pointed to the floor at the paving slabs where the cafe table and chairs were. I had one leg of the tripod on the paving slab and two legs on the cobbled part of the Piazza. So I said to them, so it’s the paving slabs are the bits you are “policing” then and that is the only private part? They said yes. So I moved my offending leg off of the paving slab and put it on the cobbled part, but my presenter and guest were still on the private land which my camera was pointing at. They told me, not good enough and I couldn’t point the camera that way. I said nonsense. They called the police. The police came. Told them off for wasting their time and I finished the interview. The point of this story is there is parts of London, which although are public, are owned privately. Here you cannot film without permission BUT you can film the private land from a public place!
A major place where you cannot film is London’s South Bank. It’s a nightmare area. There are almost as many security guards as there are tourists. You can be guerilla and try it and sometimes you can get lucky like I did when filming my South Bank short film. Now I had permission for Waterloo station but not the South Bank. The South Bank is owned by various different people. For example the land by the London Eye is owned by one company but the land just next to that is owned by the company that owns county hall so you need permission from two different companies. Further down East it’s owned by more companies. it’s a nightmare. If filming “guerilla” style with minimal gear you often can get away with it. On Thursday I am taking the new JVC HM100 to all the private places I can’t film and will film as I have what looks like a consumer camera that shoots pro pictures. Just me, the camera and my baby cinesaddle!
Going back to the London Eye that was my worst experience for filming in London for hassle, I had 6 security guards surround my camera as I had permission from the wrong office. My friend had it even worse, he is Indian and PAID to film at the Eye including going in a pod twice round. But, because he is Indian he was pounced on by security and asked to stop, despite having paid to be there! Nothing you can say will stop them sometimes and in situations like that, best to give up! it’s a sad fact but in today’s climate you are more likely to be stopped filming and hassled if you are of Asian appearance. Because I am sure if you were a terrorist doing a recce you would take your ex3 and 35mm adaptor or RED and take some nice shots of the places with shallow depth of field and film in overcrank. I am sure the cell you were working for would be very impressed and have no problem if you were to post it on Vimeo!
Filming people is completely legal but obviously respect them, if they ask you not to film, don’t film .If you plan to use them for commercial purposes it is advisable to get a release form signed, but that’s only for things like commercials, docs etc…general filming for yourself you don’t need anything signed.
The Royal Parks in London are also an interesting grey area. You need a permit to film there for News and special permission for things like Dolly and Track and large crews. But if you take your RED camera down there and film for yourself, as in, not for commercial use you are legally allowed to do this. Download this link to read more. Basically it’s the use of the phrase “amateur”. As far as I am concerned I am only professional when getting paid to film. The rest of the time I am “amateur”. So if I chose to go to Richmond Park or Hyde Park and take my EX3 with adaptor and film for my own use I have every right to.
It’s a complicated situation in London and it’s worth researching what is public and what is private beforehand, but print off the BFP image above and keep it with you to show uneducated CSOs.
Hopefully with time we can educate people enough to make this a thing of the past.
I don’t know what the law is in other countries, certainly if someone has a gun and asks me to stop filming I generally do. When I filmed Deer Vegas last year I got lots of hassle, as most of the sidewalks outside the hotels are owned by the hotels, so I was generally quite quick, a bit sneaky and used my “superior English linguistic skills to fool them” (from a family guy episode where the English take over the Clam)
What is the law where you live? Please inform people below so we can make this a useful page.