As assaults on photographers by citizens and the police have steadily increased in the past couple of years, it is important that you as a photographer know what your rights are if you are involved in one of these incidents.
A recent example of these altercations comes out of New York, where actor Alec Baldwin shoved photographer Marcus Santos outside of the Marriage Bureau. Santos later filed a complaint with the New York Police Department. Alec Baldwin claims that he didn’t punch Santos, and in an interview with David Letterman Baldwin claims that he was in fact only hitting the camera, not the photographer.
The truth of the matter is that Baldwin’s actions could have constituted battery without his ever laying a finger on Santos. The rule in a majority of states in the country is that a person’s body need not be physically harmed to bring a claim of battery. If unwanted and intentional contact occurs with something that is closely connected to the body such that it could be considered part of the plaintiff’s person, that contact can be treated as battery.
This can include a camera in one’s hand or around one’s neck. In fact in one case in Rhode Island, a woman was awarded damages for assault and battery after her mechanic, who she took a picture of when she didn’t like the job he did, admitted to placing his hand on the camera that she was holding in an attempt to stop her from taking his picture. Any unwanted touching of your camera can give rise to a lawsuit just as if your body was assaulted. The law accords you a right to personal space and that personal space can be disturbed through physical harm, or simply through touching deemed offensive or violative of personal dignity.
If your camera is physically interfered with while in your possession, know that you may not only have the right to bring a civil suit for damages, but that the aggressor may also be criminally liable.
As photographers we often consider our cameras as extensions of ourselves. We should take comfort knowing the law is in agreement.