Archived posting to the Leica Users Group, 1998/05/04

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Subject: Re: [Leica] OFF TOPIC - Press "Freedom"
Date: Mon, 4 May 1998 14:39:16 -0400

     Someone writing about "why the Quebec ruling is harmful" referred to 
     it as a "ridiculous interperetation of privacy" and added that the 
     "court...extend[ed] its jurisdiction into determining what constitutes 
     a news photograph," and that on "a sunny day...someone... sitting out 
     in the sun after a month of El Nino...might constitute news...[but 
     because]...I couldn't find that caveat in the ruling,... better just 
     stick to shooting the things...declared safe in the ruling."
     Not being a lawyer, I do not know whether by this decision the court 
     did "extend its jurisdiction."  But it does seem that what the court 
     did was simply to balance, on the one hand, the photographer's right 
     (freedom of the press, freedom of expression) and, through that, the 
     public's right (to be informed, as Eric pointed out) against, on the 
     other hand, the individual's right (to privacy).  It also seems that 
     such a function is precisely the purpose of the court.  None of those 
     rights is absolute, any more than the right to free speech gives one 
     absolute license to shout "Fire" indescriminately; rather rights often 
     conflict with one another, and balances must be found.  And in finding 
     those balances, reasonable people may reasonably disagree.  The ruling 
     of the court is clearly not an unreasonable one, regardless of whether 
     I (not a Canadian) agree with it, and, therefore, is not "ridiculous." 
     It found that the facts of this case had not "shown that the public's 
     interest in seeing this photograph is predominant." On the newsworthy 
     "sunny day...after a month of El Nino" the earlier writer mentioned, 
     photographers are free to publish pictures in which "an individual's 
     own action, albeit unwittingly, accidentally places him or her in the 
     photograph...[thus] in the limelight," or in which "a person appears 
     in an incidental manner in a photograph of a public place...even if it 
     is technically possible to identify individuals."  And photographers, 
     like the one in this court case, are always free to ask the permission 
     of individual subjects either before or after they photograph them.  I 
     do not think that possession of a camera---even a Leica!---vacates the 
     rights of those individuals one may choose to photograph, and although 
     I greatly admire the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson, it may be that he 
     should have gotten permission of individuals whom he had photographed 
     (and, for all I know, perhaps he did).
     Art Peterson
     P.S. Thanks to Tom Shea for making the text of the decision available.