New Lawsuit Could Hurt Artistic Street Photography in Germany

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A couple of days ago, a reader sent this article in to us talking about the end street photography in Germany. Street photography in many areas has always been a bit of a murky subjects, but in general it has always been legal for someone to shoot images in public. But the problem talked about in the article was bound to happen.

With assistance from our buddy Thomas Ludwig of Cosyspeed, it can be clarified that street photography isn’t over, but a situation like this was bound to happen.

According to Mr. Ludwig, the article is about well known street photographer Espen Eichhöfer (member of photo agency ‘Ostkreuz’) who came along and took an image of a woman in Berlin. She saw it at an exhibition and became upset. So her lawyer filed a lawsuit and the first level a German court said that it was illegal and against the personal rights of women as stated in the law from 1907.

As a result, the photo can no longer be exhibited–and it doesn’t end there. Mr. Eichhöfer is now going to the next level and a higher court will have to decide if street photography is an art–and therefore if the process of taking images of strangers and publishing without permission is indeed legal.

More after the jump.

In general, street photography isn’t really allowed in Germany, but it was always revered as an artistic genre and so no one ever really complained about it.

The 1907 law that was referenced states that the right of publishing a photo is owned by the subject of the photo. If the photographer doesn’t have permission of the subject, then it isn’t allowed. The catch is that if more than five people are in an image or take part in a public even, then the photographer can go ahead and publish without any permission. That’s also why Thomas was able to shoot this video with me as a subject when Cosyspeed launched.

With that said, the issues of street photography was never a major problem because no one ever filed a lawsuit and it was widely seen as an art form.

The major problem comes with distinguishing who is creating the photo: a professional artistic street photographer, or the person with a day job that shoots on the side. “Look at Thomas Leuthard for example. He’s a public servant in Switzerland but also one of the best temporary street photographers.” states Mr. Ludwig. “Everyone who is in street photography in Germany knows (about) this problem especially since (the inception of) digital photography and smartphones. Because since then a ton of images from the public are flooding the internet and it seems to be a bit ‘out of control’.”

The ruling could potentially end the documenting of cultural life on the streets the same way that so many photographers did years ago.