Street Photographer Harassed by Police for Taking Photos in Times Square

Resnick was questioned by a police officer moments after he took this photo. ©Mason Resnick

Mason Resnick, a photographer and editor of the Adorama Learning Center, was shooting in New York City’s Times Square yesterday when he felt a tug on his camera strap. His first thought was that someone was trying to steal his camera. When he looked up though he saw the stern face of a New York City police officer staring back at him.

“What are you doing?” the officer grilled him.

When Resnick explained he was a street photographer who was capturing candids of people in Times Square, the officer pressed him by saying he had received “several complaints” about Resnick.

“I was following you for several blocks,” the officer said. “There are a lot of school groups here today, lots of children.”

Resnick was nonplussed.

“That inference was pretty clear,” Resnick wrote in his blog for Adorama. “I was being not so subtly being accused of being a pedophile.”

Resnick was able to able to quell the situation by showing the officer the images he had shot — even though he was no way legally obligated to do so. In the end, Resnick, who was testing the Leica X1 and D-Lux 5 digital cameras for Adorama as part of a Street Photography Stress Test, decided that arguing further was not worth it.

“Even though I know I have the legal right to take pictures in public places (this has been challenged many times in U.S., Canadian, and UK courts and in every case, the photographer’s rights have been affirmed), I also advise my students that when an officer tells you to stop taking pictures, you stop, and don’t argue Why? Because he is armed, and has the power to arrest you—and he may not be well-versed in the rights of photographers.”

What do you think of how Resnick handled the situation? How would you have handled it? Have you noticed more harassment from police officers for taking photos in public places lately?

(Read more about Resnick’s experience in Times Square here.)

53 Responses to “Street Photographer Harassed by Police for Taking Photos in Times Square”

  1. Amy Says:

    This doesnt really sound like harassment to me. It sounds like the officer received complaints about a guy taking pictures of strangers and concern for children. He says himself that the he showed the officer pictures and no summons was given, nor were his rights violated in any way.
    He comes off like a crybaby over this non-incident. Cops have to do their jobs just like we do. It’s not like he took his cameras or locked him up-calm down!

  2. David Brabyn Says:

    WHen that happens call the NYPD’s DCPI (Deputy Commissioner, Public Information) on (646) 610-6700.

    They DO know the rules on street photography.

    If the officer doesn’t back down comply in every way but get his/her badge number, find a witness and record as much of the interaction as possible then lodge a complaint.

  3. Douglas Ljungkvist Says:

    I would not have backed down, no way! I know my rights

  4. Mason Resnick Says:

    Hi Amy, I agree it wasn’t harassment, it was a cop doing his job investigating a complaint. When I patiently showed him the complaint was baseless, he backed off and the “non-incident” remained exactly that. Had I been more assertive about my rights (as some commenters on FB and on the blog post have suggested), this might have ended differently.

    What Dan didn’t mention is that I walked over to 6th Avenue, took out my camera and resumed shooting.

    In any case, my goal of relating this was simply to show how to diffuse situations like these.

    As for David’s comment, thanks for the DCPI’s phone number. That’s good information but not necessary in this case.

  5. Kate Says:

    Personally, I think Resnick’s advice to his students is terrible. Every photojournalist gets stopped or questioned by police at one point or another. Many times that officer is ignorant of the law. All you have to do is calmly explain the situation and most officers will eventually leave you alone. It’s happened to me.

    Frankly, I’m not scared of the possibility of being arrested in a situation like this. Charges wouldn’t hold up in any court.

    Not saying you always need to make a scene but you certainly don’t always need to kowtow to the whims of every cop.

  6. Ambrose Pierce Says:

    I wonder how much he’s worked in the streets of New York. This is very common. The rank and file NYP don’t know a wit about photographer’s rights, but if you are polite and explain to them your rights, they are generally pretty decent and understanding. It’s possible he was working in the style of Bruce Gilden (who I love, don’t get me wrong), which is why he may have elicited complaints. Check out this video. He’s amazing.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IRBARi09je8&feature=related

  7. Tim Says:

    I agree with Mason’s open, non-confrontational approach to the situation. It works wonders to break the tension. It also allows the photographer the opportunity to explain to the officer his or her rights under the law–an opportunity Mason did not take, which is disappointing to me.

    Not only did he miss the opportunity to change the officer’s perception of street photography ( or at least get seed of a thought in his head to think about the fact that he’s limiting citizen’s rights without cause), I think the way Mason ended the conversation:

    “I have a feeling you want me to put the camera away now, right?”

    “That’s right.”

    probably confirmed the officer’s suspicion that Mason was actually up to some kind of trouble and reinforced to the officer that he was in the right. I suspect this officer, who has just had his wrong-headed decision-making reinforced, will continue to harass street photographers with greater regularity and more confidence.

    If we don’t stand up for our rights in Times Square in the middle of the day, surrounded by other people taking photos, where do we stand up for our rights???

  8. jeff Says:

    I just got back from NYC over halloween, and wonder what you have to do to get harassed by the police. While I was there, I took photos of crowds while I was standing in front of NYC police, took photos of police, and walked in times square for about 3 hours, all without incident. There were dozens of police around all night, and not a single issue to be had. Perhaps I was lucky?

  9. brad Says:

    …”decided that arguing further was not worth it”

    That’s the problem right there. WTF stand your ground and fight for what is right. Don;t capitulate to the cops or bogus accusations.

    Ask yourself this – was it better to insinuate you were a pedophile or a terrorist when he approached you? The former under the guise of what he really was doing. It had nothin to do with him worrying if u were a kiddy fiddler.

    This is where 9/11 succeeded. Created fear in you all. Osama’s already won!

  10. NothingFromNowhere Says:

    Vandalism In The Face Of A Cop Is Still A Beautiful Thing.

  11. brad Says:

    Here is another example of that fear…

    http://www.pocket-lint.com/news/36940/kuwait-bans-use-dslr-cameras

  12. trent Says:

    The problem with the “diffuse the situation” approach is that we have to keep reading stories like this. Believe it or not, you can assert your rights and still be polite. Don’t just leave a mess for the next photographer.

  13. Ian Coble Says:

    Not that big of a deal… really! This happens all the time, all over the place. The cop was doing his job. Diffuse the situation and move on.

  14. JD Elliott Says:

    Mason, what if you’d been shooting film? You wouldn’t have been able to show the officer your shots.

    And although there is a side of me that gets mad at verbal “strong arm” tactics like implying pedophilia as a power play, I agree that fighting an ill-informed cop who does have the power to arrest you and may feel like using it cause he’s bored may not be the best way to keep working that day. Which is important too.

    Or.. have a flash mob of photographers in Times Sq. :)

  15. Photographer’s rights – one case from Times Square Says:

    [...] Pulse (Photo District News), had a piece about a photographer harassed in Times Square in New York. For a different reason, but still the theme [...]

  16. Erin Photogeek Says:

    Please. People. It’s ‘defuse’. You don’t have to believe me; there are skillions of free online dictionaries. Sure, ‘diffuse’ makes sense in a Joey Tribbiani-sort of way. But the correct word is ‘defuse.’

    This site might be helpful:
    The Photographer’s Right
    http://www.krages.com/phoright.htm

    It is not a small issue. As free citizens we have every right to go about our business without being stopped and questioned by police, public or private.

  17. BradE Says:

    The cop got some complaints, he was required to investigate. Resnick absolutely did the right thing.

    The title of the piece though is extremely misleading. He was not “Harassed by the Police.” That just gets everybody worked up about essentially nothing.

    I get stopped by various people out shooting. Confidence and transparency works wonders…

  18. jamie Says:

    I am a photgrapher who does alot of street shooting and I’m also a lawyer. I am always aware of the possibility that I’m going to be challenged by the police on the street, although it’s never happened, except right after 9/11 in lower manhattan. Even then my press pass did me little good.

  19. Sean Says:

    What can you do? It’s a practical advice. If you want to stand up, fine. If not, fine. But I still feel we have right to assert ourselves a bit more?

    I try very hard NOT to shoot people who haven’t noticed the camera, so this never happened to me. Well, I live in Canada.

  20. Dustin Buckner Says:

    Very well handled. As a photographer and police officer, I know the rights and I know common sense. Live to fight another day.

  21. YouWantWhatYouWant Says:

    “I was being not so subtly being accused of being a pedophile.”

    What have you done with your camera to help reduce paedophile activity?

    “It’s possible he was working in the style of Bruce Gilden (who I love”

    You love someone who aggressively confronts old ladies? Maybe he’ll give your granny cardiac arrest.

  22. tinc Says:

    Sad commentary on our society, isn’t it?

    Children as subjects are so much closer to perfection than their elders.

    For the most part they are totally unpretentious, devoid of self-consciousness and totally involved in whatever activity they are a part of and in the moment.

    But I have to admit my own qualms when I’m at the playground snapping shots of my own granddaughter and I have occasion to catch her playing with other kids.

    The rest of the parental herd turn their focus on the old guy with the camera.

    I’ve never been asked to not take those shots of their children but it’s just sad we’ve come down to that point in time.

  23. Scott Bourne Says:

    This is yet another example of the shrinkage of our civil rights. New York cops are notoriously thuggish and unless you have the time and money to go to court, you have to do what the photographer here did – capitulate. I might have asked the cop who complained. I personally doubt anyone did. My guess was the cop was simply badge-heavy. If someone did complain it’s public info and I’d press to get that info. I do think trying to educate cops about our rights as photographers is a good idea, and will be constantly required as the police tend to get more and more comfortable these days treating every day street photographers like Osama bin Laden.

  24. Staley Says:

    As a filmmaker and Photographer I run into this a lot. It’s tougher with video on the streets but I always try and keep away from kids. Having said that, its good to know your rights and stand up for them, even at the risk of arrest. There’s a lot of good cops but definitely a few punks who are ill-informed and will abuse their power. Inform yourself and stand strong, just don’t loose composure, remain unafraid and respectful.

  25. Joseph Holmes Says:

    Defusing the situation was surely the quickest and safest route, but it means that one officer was left uneducated about the rights of the people he was there to protect and serve.

    No police officer is doing her job by stopping and questioning someone where there’s no reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Photographing people out on the streets, whether adults or children, does not, in any way, suggest criminal activity — in Times Square of all places.

    So this officer was not “merely doing his job.” His job was to tell the people complaining, “I’m sorry, there’s nothing wrong with someone taking pictures of people out in public.”

    He was misinformed, and there was a polite, non-confrontational way to have a conversation with that officer that would educate him and let the photographer get on with his day. I’ve done it myself, several times in fact.

    The best way to start is to say, “Oh, I’m sorry, was I breaking the law?” That passes the issue to the officer, who’s going to have to admit that there’s no law against taking photos.

    It’s worth having that conversation. But do back down if it’s clear it’s not going to end well. No one wants to spend the night in jail, even if you’re in the right.

  26. Andrew Says:

    I have run into this myself when on assignment for the City of New York! I was assigned to capture life in one neighborhood and that included parks. When I got near a playground I was challenged by the adults. I totally saw their point and their concern. The best thing you can do is have some kind of identity badge that you are on assigment. I’ve alos been stopped many times by cops in Times Square…they don’t like anyone blocking pedestrian traffic…get a shoot permit in advance it shows that you are a pro.

  27. fotowarung.bazuki.com » Blog Archive » PDN Pulse : Street Photographer Harassed by Police for Taking Photos in Times Square Says:

    [...] HERE at PDN [...]

  28. Joseph Holmes Says:

    The rules for when a permit is required are here:

    http://www.nyc.gov/html/film/html/news/070108_moftb_adopts_rules.shtml

    In general, as long as you’re using hand-held equipment and you’re not “asserting exclusive use of City property,” you don’t need a permit.

    That said, the police will definitely ask you not to block the sidewalk. That would seem to fall under exclusive use…

  29. Jim Says:

    Never, ever take pictures of other people’s children. NEVER.

  30. John Elder Says:

    I am a street photographer since 1985 and have had this happen to me several times. I also know my rights. The first thing I would have said to the cop is “Am I under arrest?” this puts the cop to the test, arrest or release. If the cop tries to evade that question I tell him that i am in a public place legally photographing and if he detains me or interferes with me I will sue him in federal court in a federal Section1983 civil rights action. Most cops know exactly what this is. Then I walk away. I have done this a total of 4 times .

  31. Jonathan Carre Says:

    The best way to start is to say, “Oh, I’m sorry, was I breaking the law?”

    Yeah, that doesn’t sound sarcastic at all, that’s not going to get the officer’s back up from the word go.

  32. Jason Hudson Says:

    I get why a lot of you say to educate the officer, but there are over 40,000 cops in NYC and you’re not going to educate every one of them. There are so many streets in that city, wouldn’t it be easier to just move one block over where that one cop isn’t, and keep shooting? Times Square is just tourists dressed like they are going to Disney World. The interesting people are on all the streets outside of Times Squre anyways :-)

  33. Dennis Keeley Says:

    A photographer who spoke at Art Center was stopped for questioning when making pictures of a homeland security site. The FBI and local law enforcement asked for id etc. He was explaining his rights to them and while standing around and waiting, he called his lawyer on the cell phone and explained his predicament. His lawyer replied, “easier to stay out of jail than get out of jail.” He complied with the cops requests and lived to photograph another day.

    Cameras attract attention, that’s the fact. People want to know what you are photographing in the place that they are. I can always explain what and why I make pictures and 99% of the time that is enough for the inquiring person.

  34. Robert Says:

    Correction. The police officer said he had received “several complaints” about Resnick. That does not mean there ever was one complaint. Just because somebody says something, it doesn’t make it true.

  35. JeffGreenberg Says:

    Related:

    Kuwait bans DSLR street photography
    http://www.reghardware.com/2010/11/24/kuwait_dslr_camera_ban/
    (or is this hoax?)

  36. dbltapp Says:

    1. Nobody complained. Cops lie all the time – that’s how they justify their actions.

    2. If the cop was watching the guy for several blocks he saw that the photog wasn’t doing anything illegal.

  37. dave Says:

    Dustin Buckner writes:
    “Very well handled. As a photographer and police officer, I know the rights and I know common sense. Live to fight another day.”

    Easy for you to say. If in fact you are a police officer, & you are stopped by another officer while photographing, you show your police badge & you’re on your way. Easy.
    It’s not the same for the rest of us who really are trying to make a living as photographers.

  38. Peter J. Mancus Says:

    I have never met anyone who enjoys being branded a “shirker” or a “coward” or a “terrible decision maker.” Nevertheless, the facts of this incident strongly suggest, at least to me, that those pejoratiove descriptions apply with merit to large parts of how Resnick handled this incident, especially his bottom line ultimate decision to back down, to be unduly compliant, to surrender his rights, to yield to a cop who had not yet really crossed over a constiutional line that limits the cop’s actual authority. This cop initiated a volunltary conversation with Resnick, which, apparently, spooked Resnich into submission, far, far, too early. The cop acted lawfully well within his actual authority and had not yet crossed over into asserting authority he lacks. There is a huge difference between the two. The first type is constiutional; the second type is not. Resnick contributed to the establishment of a horrible precedent: All cops have to do to intimidate photographers like Resnick who are incapable of, or who are unwilling to, assert their rights and to stand on them is to simply tell a photographer A) people have complained, B) children are present, C) I have been follwing you, and D) what are you doing. So what? So what people have complained. Since the cop followed and saw what Resnic was doing the cop already had actual personal knowledge about what Resnick was doing. Until that cop had at least one objectively reasonable reason that he could articulate that Resnick’s conduct was PROBABLY [more likely than not] connected to criminal conduct, the cop’s actual authority over Resnick, was, guess what?, . . . ZERO. Resnick, however, immediately functioned with extreme undue compliance, simply to go out of his way, allegedly, to be “nice”. Photographers’ rights [and all rights], however, are not contingent on other folks’ complaints to a cop or an a cop’s opinion on what the law is or the insinuation implied by a cop’s question. An Ancient Greek opined something long before Christ was born that is true and relevant: THE SECRET OF HAPPINESS IS FREEDOM AND THE SECRET OF FREEDOM IS COURAGE. Sadly, Resnick did not have, could not muster, or elected to refrain from manifesting courage in this situation. Nothing personal against him, but, cerebrally and impersonally, damn him for his decision and for backing down. By being prematurely unduly compliant he contributed to making things much harder for other photographers and for himself, he went along to go along and that furthered eroded the real constitutional rule of law, he rewarded and encouraged others who complained who do not give a damn about his rights, and he made it so easy, far too easy, for the cops to oppress, even though this one did not. I suspect that down deep Resnick is lying to himself and he has offered a fig leaf, non-meritorius rationale in a failed effort to cover up the truth–especially from himself–which is impossible, and the complete truth is probably this: A) constitutional rights are so unimportant to Resnick he caved in big time prematurely; and/or B) he functioned as a coward because he is one or because it was conveninet for him to do so; and/or C) his convience and his desire to avoid the cop’s powers were more important to him than his duty as a citizen to do his bit to assert his rights for himself and other photographers. In the end, he did no one any true favors. Instead, he just reduced himself to common as dirt shirkers and cowards, allowed his rights to atrophy by lack of assertation of same, walked away from and turned his back on his failure to stand up for constitutionalism [functioning with fidelity to the real Constitutional Rule of Law], and, now, with his explanation for what he did, his attempt to drown his fecal matter decision and conduct with his superficially pleasant sounding perfumed-up rational, to cover over the stink that arises from his decision and conduct, fails, miserably. I would have stood, unflinchingly, on my rights and that is what I recommend. To the extent that millions upon millions of fellow citizens daily function with the kind of unduce compliance that Resnick manifsted, one can begin to comprehend that a Constutional Republic based on Due Prcess of Law cannot survive when citizens have lost their love of liberty, and treat their rights as being unimportant, expendable, inconvenient, and/or wortlhless — Peter J. Mancus, Attorney at Law, Caifornia State Bar (707) 824-1884

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  40. Cole Says:

    I’ve done a couple street photography projects. They’re fun.

    I’ve taken pictures of tough looking guys, without permission, in public.

    If any of these people approached me and asked what I was doing, I would do exactly what Resnick did. I think it’s a waste of energy to talk about bantering about your rights as a photographer. The cop has the right to ask what you’re doing, and has reason to ask if someone has made a complaint. While Resnick didn’t HAVE to show the officer his images, I think it was a good way to calm any concerns.

    As photographers, especially on the streets, we’re bound to interact with people every day. Some may be pissy, some may be overly talkative. But the choice in how to deal with it is individual. Maybe Resnick wants to take pictures – rather than spend his time forging political paths for future photographers who will have to deal with uneducated people in one form or another anyway.

    If ya want to spend your energy sticking up for yourself, and proving you’re in the right, rather than simply explaining yourself, that’s cool too. Seems like a waste of time to me.

  41. Gavin Stok Says:

    I’ve been stopped in Times Square. I was trying to do a time lapse so had a tripod mounted camera plugged into my laptop. Two police officers weren’t too impressed and advised I’d need a permit, then looked mighty stupid when I asked them to explain to me exactly what the permit was for and where to get it. I eventually decided it wasn’t worth the fight, packed up and left for elsewhere feeling that NY wasn’t quite as welcoming as I thought (ironically I got stopped at the next place too).

  42. BradE Says:

    In the big scheme of things, in the way the incident was described, this is pretty much mice nuts. People who feel otherwise and are getting worked up probably don’t do a lot of shooting on the street.

  43. NYC Street photographer Says:

    I live in NYC and lived here all my life. I photograph street practically everyday, before, during and after 9/11. This kind of experience give me some knowledge of the NYPD beat cop. I don’t know Mason Resnick or ever read his blog, but this story does not sound Kosher. First, I will take Mr. Resnick at his word, a NYPD officer would not follow a person or a photographer for blocks to investigate ‘several complaints’ from passerbys. If there is suspicion of wrong doing, a cop will always stop you on your tracks and question you immediately. This is standard procedure in order to prevent flight or destruction of evidence. A NYPD beat cop would not follow a suspect for blocks, risk being made and have the suspect flee, destroy evidence or worst, especially in Times Square. Secondly, everybody in Times Square has a camera and everybody shoots candid photographs, I do it everyday and nobody gives a second look. If this story is true, Mr. Resnick must have done some serious harassment to get ‘several complaints’ involving children from people. Thirdly, this is New York, where the phrase “where is a cop when you need one” originates, including Times Square. By the time a cop is found, a male white with a camera in Times Square would fit the description of hundreds of people and find one would be like a needle in a haystack. So I have doubts to the validity of the story, but it can pass for non-New Yorkers, it is also an innovative way to get a free plug for the camera store.

  44. Bob Eichenberger Says:

    Both men were just doing their respective jobs and handled the situation perfectly. Kudos

  45. mirroreyes Says:

    I am surprised only one person found the officer’s claim of “several complaints” suspect. I’ve been stopped and told the same thing by officers and at least once it was impossible – I had only just arrived. The inference of pedophilia is common, it arouses “think of the children” / “stranger danger” instincts and immediately puts an unwary photographer on the defensive. Same as with inferring terrorism. Basic bullying tactics at best, unmindful and ignorant fear at worst.

    I have to agree with comments above that the officer didn’t do his job well: telling the complainers (were there any) that there is nothing illegal about photography would have been a good start – justifying people unbased fears by stopping a photog only gives their fear more power.

    I’d also think a few moments of observing a pro in the field would answer most hesitations, we don’t behave the way pedestrians do with our gear.

    Cheers to Resnick for ending it peaceably though, if only because the mess that is our legal system could make moments like these prolonged, miserable and unproductive were he more aggressive.

  46. C.S. Muncy Says:

    I’m a freelance news shooter in Manhattan, and during one of my first assignments for the Times I ran into a similar situation. The story was about changing banks, so I had to run around most the city photographing bank facades. People gave me odd looks, but nobody really challenged me…until I ran into a traffic cop in Midtown.

    The officer came running out of the bank lobby, literally yelling “you can’t take photos here!” Eventually I asked her why not, to which she responded “Because of 9/11.”

    That was it.

    I didn’t get (visibly) worked up about it, I simply told her that since I’m on a public sidewalk, I’m not trespassing and can photograph it as much as I want. Then I told her that I would wait around if she wanted to get the bank manager and see if he had any problems with it, and if she wanted to call her supervisor and see if she could find a specific law or code to prove her point. She declined to call her supervisor, but did get the bank manager…who told her in no uncertain terms that I had every right to photograph the bank.

    And off she went.

  47. pavel Says:

    yankees they freeking out about all this 9 11.

  48. Jim P Says:

    The biggest difference is that I would have reported this incident to the NYCLU. The NYPD has been repeatedly sued and they have repeatedly promised in settlements with the NYCLU and others to stop harassing photographers. The actions of this police officer are inexcusable.

    People who have been detained and even arrested have received five figure settlements (after legal fees). I would not mind getting some new lenses at taxpayer expense!

  49. PDN Pulse » Blog Archive » Obama Photographer Confronted By Secret Service After Taking Photos in Front of White House Says:

    [...] week we told you about the street photographer who was questioned by a police officer after capturing images in Times Square. In this case, Garcia [...]

  50. Yger Says:

    This is pathetic. A professional person, with corporate lawers in his office, walks away with the tail between his legs, because the “he is armed”. No wonder the governement can photograph anybody with their see-thru scanners. Land of the free, home of the brave? Give me a break. American sheeple.

  51. Truth and Justice For All Says:

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  52. Anthony S Says:

    Resnick, I can’t be leave the pussification you showed! OTOH, maybe you’re just stupid. And the rest of your Geeks who think this guy did the “Right Thing,” are equally chicken fecaled or ignorant.

    How about this as a two liner: Officer, I want your supervisor here and now! Officer, I know that if there were complaints about me that there are time stamped recordings of the receipt of those complaints coupled with dispatch messages to you. Sum it up with saying: do you really want to go down that path? My attorney is a cell phone call away, and I
    WILL NOT surrender my 1A rights. Next call is yours, Ocifer.

    tony

  53. Thomas Says:

    No. You don’t stop. And you don’t give up you equipment or pictures. That is unlawful search and seizure. You instead calmly but professionally tell that officer what the law is and what your rights are. It is, in fact unlawful intimidation on his part.

    Remember, he is trying to intimidate you, so let him know you are aware of your rights. You can have that officer investigated by internal affairs, so make sure YOU QUESTION HIM. Get his name, badge number, and his captain’s name and phone number. He has to tell you.

    You can also cite numerous lawsuits and case law supporting photographers rights. Two such well known cases are mentioned in an article I wrote about a local incident I was involved with, which also involved school children. It’s not illegal to photograph ANYONE in public, not even children. In my case, I was merely documenting an unsafe school crosswalk. And yes, they tried to intimidate me with authority they didn’t have.

    Some useful links are included at the end of my article about Photographer’s Rights:

    http://denver.yourhub.com/Denver/Stories/Opinion/General/Story~913707.aspx