When can and when can’t you take photos in Japan?
I received an unexpected email from an anthropology professor in Osaka about this topic last week. He had some interesting questions which I’ve pasted below with my answers. I’d love to know how other photographers in Japan would answer.
If anyone wants to fill in his questionnaire, please do so in the comments section or send your answers to me by email. I’ll pass them on.
The organization to ask is the 日本新聞協会 [Japan Newspapers Publishers and Editors Association]。 I went to their office in Hibiya and a one of their staff very patiently explained the rules to me. They are also printed in a handbook published by the organization called 取材と報道 [news gathering and reporting]
1) How do you go about taking photographs in public?
2) Do you get permission from the people you photograph in public? How? Oral permission? Written permission?
For photojournalists the rule tends to be “shoot first, ask permission later”. Generally speaking, I only ask permission if people have noticed I am there.
3) What do you know about the laws and regulations in this matter, especially dealing with privacy laws and portrait rights in Japan?
You need to ask the Shimbun Kyoukai about this. As I understand it, there are no restrictions on taking photos in public places in Japan. But if the picture is published and you have infringed someone’s right to privacy, they can sue you and have a good chance of winning. The example I was given was taking a picture of Shibuya crossing, publishing it in a Japanese magazine, and then being sued because a couple in the photo were having an affair. If you harmed their marriages by infringing their right to privacy you can lose in court. That’s very different to say the UK where pretty much anyone is fair game as long as they are in a public place.
The shimbun kyoukai did tell me though that no foreign journalist has been sued in this situation. It’s probably because if the picture is published outside Japan its less of an infringement of privacy.
4) Do you do anything to protect the people who appear in your photographs (like blurring out their face, etc.)?
No I don’t, basically because I’m not worried about being sued (see above). Also, it wouldn’t be acceptable in a foreign publication.
5) Do you ever compensate people you photograph in public (either money or other considerations)?
Never money. I will send them a copy of the photo if they ask.
6) If you have published your work in print, how do book publishers deal with these issues? Is it up to the photographer or the publisher to gain permission for all photos published?
This is about the difference between editorial and other photography. If you want to use the photo in an advertisement, company brochure etc you will need a “photo release” for any people or property in the photo. The photographer normally has the subject sign the release just after the photo is taken.
It is very important for stock photography as you never know where the photo might be used. In the US its necessary to make a small payment to make the contract legal I think. (There’s a lot of info about this on the internet). Photo releases have become common in Japan too.
7) What about posting pictures you have taken in public on the internet? Are there any special considerations here? Do you do anything to protect your posted photos?
I watermark my photos. See my blog, because I have just posted a link to a discussion about this.
8) Any other comments?
I recommend you ask a media lawyer about this too. (If you find someone helpful, please let me know becasue I want to set up a panel on this topic for an event at the correspondent’s club in Tokyo). You might also want to contact Prof. Kenichi Asano at Doshisha uni. He is an ex-journalist who wants to set up a “press council” in Japan similar to one in the UK. Part of the reason the rules are so complex and sketchy, I think, is that like many things in Japan, the press tends to operate under a kind of 暗黙の了解 [unspoken agreement]. Having a watchdog would make things much clearer and fairer.