The laws of Sweden for Street photographers

Before you go out photographing on the streets of Sweden, it's necessary to know your rights as a photographer. Read on for a thorough explanation and interpretation of the laws of Sweden.

The laws of Sweden

The right to document and take photos in Sweden is extremely strong and closely connected to the constitutional law and freedom of speech. There are some exceptions though that you should be aware of, and this knowledge will hopefully give you enough confidence on the streets.

What is a public space?

Before explaining the laws, it's essential to know what the definition "public space" exactly means according to the laws of Sweden. A public space is basically any place that the public has open access to. With this definition a public space could be for example:

  • streets
  • parks
  • museums
  • stores
  • shopping malls
  • schools
  • pubs
  • restaurants

Exceptions

Photography in public places with explicit signs that says "photography prohibited", is not allowed, but if you ignore these signs and take photos anyway, you can only be rejected. You can never be forced to erase the photos or hand over your equipment. If you refuse to leave the place after explicit attention from the manager, you can possibly be guilty of tresspassing so you'd better follow the managers advise to leave the space.

Photography in military facilities with signs of photography prohibited is not advised since this could lead to charges of espionage.

There are suggestions to change the law to disallow photography in public toilets, showers and so on, but this is still a proposal.

Q&A

Question: Public shools is a place where the general assumption is that photography is prohibited. What happens if you take photos in a public shool?

Answer: You are in fact allowed to take photos in public schools, but you can be forced to leave the space if you get the attention of the school staff.

Question: A store, bar or a resturant is usually owned by private investors. Are these still considered public spaces?

Answer: Yes, as long as the space is open to public, it's still considered as a public space. The worst thing that could happen is that the owner of the store, bar or resturant ask you to leave if he finds your photography annoying.

Question: If the police forces me to erase my photos or hand over my equipment, what should I do?

Answer: The police can never force you to do this unless they have a warrant from the prosecutor. Just refuse and stand up for your rights.

Photographing people in public

The laws of Sweden allows you to take photos in public spaces, but what if you take photos of someone against their will in a public space? You are in fact allowed to do this, since this is strongly connected with the freedom of speech. So in other words you are allowed to take photos of anyone in publice, even if it's against their will. If the person asks you to erase the photos, it's up to you what you decide to do. You will likely encounter people that are certain that you are breaking the law if you don't erase their photos, so be prepared for a long argument. I have encountered this a couple of times, and if the photos are not great I have decided to erase them to save time from argumenting. In some cases I have refused, and argumenting with an agry person will in most cases not lead to anything. I actually asked the person to call for the police, just to let the police read the laws for them. Not worth the hassle to be honest. Also be aware that how embarassingly this may sound, even the police is not allways aware of these laws so be prepared for a long argument.

Exceptions

There aren't any exceptions to this, unless you take nude photos of a person under 18. This would be considered illegal.

Q&A

Question: What if I'm standing in a public space and taking photos of a person in a private space against their knowledge and will. Would this be illegal?

Answer: No. Since you are in a public space, you are not violating any laws.

Question: What if I'm at a public space photographing a person naked in their own home using a huge tele lens. This must be illegal right?

Answer: No, still not illegal.

Publishing photos

Now that you know how and where you are allowed to take photos, lets clear out what you are allowed to do with them. Again the constitutional law stongly values the work of photographers and you are allowed to publish the image how and where you like, but there is one huge exception. You are not allowed to use the image in commercial advertisement without a persons consent. This consent must be written in a model release. Non-commercial advertisement is allowed without consent from the person, which means that you may use images of anyone taken in public for advertisement for non-profit organisations.

Selling photos is allso allowed without a persons consent. The same rules applies here: anything but commercial advertisement.

You may freely publish or sell your photos of people in public without their consent for some or all of the following:

  • Internet
  • Digital media
  • Exhibitions
  • Books
  • Canvas
  • TV
  • Sell photos for non-commercial porposes

Exceptions

The only exception is that you may not use the photos for commercial advertisement. Another exception you should be aware of is that you are not allowed to publish photos of public art or statues on the Internet, since this could violate copyright (strange isn't it?).

Q&A

Question: If I publish and sell a book of a person, do I have to contact the person or pay some royalty?

Answer: No, it's your artistic material.

Question: I've taken a photo of a person and published it on the Internet. This person is now using the image on his/her website without my permission. Is this ok?

Answer: No, the person using your photos without permission is violating the copyright laws and you can claim a reaonable fee for this (up to €1500 EUR).

Question: I've taken a photo from a public space of a person naked in their own home (private space). May I publish this on the Internet?

Answer: Yes. As strange as it might seem, this is your right as a photographer.

Conclusion

The artistic rights as a photographer i Sweden are strong and you have the rights on your side. You are allowed to taking photos of anyone in public without their consent, and use it for anything but commercial purposes. With these strong rights comes great responsibility. You should feel good about your photography, and if a person asks you to erase your photo, you should think twice before deciding not to. It's your responsibility to keep up the good reputation of the street photographers.

Tags: tips, learning, laws and rules