Taking Photos Without Permission is Now Illegal in Hungary, Photographers Outraged


Effective today, a new civil code in Hungary makes it illegal to take a photograph without obtaining permission from everybody in the photo, making street photographers’ and photojournalists’ jobs infinitely more complicated and opening the door for a landslide of litigation.

Reported first in The Guardian, the new law expands current regulations that prohibited the publication of images without consent, something justice ministry officials say “merely codifies existing court practice.”

Hungarian photographers disagree, however, calling the law both obstructive and, more importantly, vague. The real problem lies with that word, because the civil code doesn’t specify what exactly is considered illegal and what isn’t.

“Can we take photos of strangers: say people looking at a shop window?” asks photojournalist Ákos Stiller, speaking to The Guardian. “Do we shoot first and ask permission later?” Even judges, reports the paper, are ‘privately’ saying they have no clue how to judge cases under the new code.

Under the new law, both of the subjects in this photo could sue the photographer if he didn't ask their permission.

Under the new law, both of the subjects in this photo could sue the photographer if he didn’t ask their permission.

The chief issues with the law are two fold. First, the code opens the door for any random person on the street to file complaints anytime a photojournalist takes a photo with them in it. And second, this further complicates the photographing of police.

In Hungary reporters already have to blur out police men’s faces when they take their picture, something that many hoped this law would remedy by identifying police as “public actors.” Instead, the law makes it much easier for police and private security to keep photojournalists and even members of the public from documenting their actions.

“There is a great tradition of Hungarian photography, and we plan to continue it, but this law is not making our job easier,” Stiller said to The Guardian in closing. “Capa would be ashamed, or would do what he did: leave for somewhere the policemen have a face.”

Thus far, laws like this — and even the law requiring police men’s faces to be blurred — are far from universal. But with growing concerns regarding privacy, is this a glimpse into the rest of the world’s future? Let us know what you think in the comments.

(via The Guardian)

Image credits: Photographs by Attila Schmidt

Thanks for sending in the tip, Nathan!

  • not your content

    I would LOVE to work with the Hungarian laws regulating my workplace. Why should a photographers right to make “art” not be regulated just a every other industrial activity is ? What’s so special about the photography sector and an “art commodity” that needs to be produced at the cost of my freedom and right to privacy ? Unfortunately I work with the international public in the Canadian tourism sector, and we have no privacy regulations. When I work as a bartender/recreation coordinator on a “Canadian land-cruise”, routinely (5 x day) my “guests” shove their amateur cameras in my face and take photos without asking my permission beforehand. Over a 5 year period I estimate that I have been the subject of a minimum of 1000 invasive photos that have been taken or attempted to be taken while I was at work. When I say “please don’t” and offer an explanation to clients that while they are a valued customer, but they are not entitled to treat tourism workers as a passive spectacle, similar to the animals and landscape. Most are baffled, some outright offended. Many readers of this post would say “but you chose that job”. Yes I chose to work with the public but not be my employer’s “chattel” or anonymous digital content for someone’s website. Why can the celebrity echelon of society be protected by photo privacy laws whereas everyday working class wage-slaves like myself are considered ‘uppity’ if we expect the same protection from cameras ? Public protocol needs to be upgraded worldwide. It is no longer socially acceptable for photographers to invade the public / personal space with their cameras transforming sovereign individuals into the photographer’s own “content”. Print out a consent form, give the public a business card and get your “content” (real human beings) to sign away the rights to their own image before you use your camera.

  • Bearr

    You may laugh, but I read his post and it was
    BUTCH that I got a black eye.

    I won’t be messing with him. No sir. Not me.

  • Aiham Dib

    could be,

    it needs philosophers to write modern laws rather than advocates.
    the mobile media and its applications, and the social platforms like facebook . means that humanity totally moved out the classic bases. and it needs a deep gaze through.
    today we are in the virtual world as if we living in glass houses. we are in our own but we are visible. so the privacy and transparency and publicity are fused .

    we may need rather to be less allergic to transparency rather than veiling ourselves in a world where info transfer and sharing are becoming a natural fact .

    we need can notice two models :

    one ruled by advocates and corporations:
    where it is all about complicating the things and making money . this by making harder laws and harder orders.
    there will be a day where it is not enough you getting approval from a person to make his or her portrait , but you will need to collect the signature and approval of the hair dresser and the fashion house, and even the owner’s signature of the building at the back ground or even the architect !
    this is against the nature of things. but it keep the power in the classic hands.
    and it wont be a strange thing if one day the camera or cell makers will ask for a percent or share in every picture taken by their brands apparels , specially in a world where all corporations got fused or holding shares with each others.

    2- the second models is simple :
    do and share cuz this is the natural thing in new media age. this will make creativity boom. but advocate will lose lot of business . but can win only based on certain cases and acclaims.
    corporations will hate this .

    we need to notice one very important thing.
    the law up here in the article is not only about a specific photographic practice. but reflecting a chemical sample of how the whole world chemistry is a;; about. and how dangerous things can be for individuals.

    practical example:
    my face book page is private but visible . so if i have a picture kissing an x-girl this is my own history and story and i have the right to have it in my OWN SPACE.. but this own space is visible.
    the radiation, visibility, and many other issues need to be redefined philosophically . not beneficiary. the human space in the extendable -or elastic- virtual age .

    as image maker it is easy to make a law that make life harder…
    but how about journalists or word, or poets or writers or painters.
    all those productive skills that can be based on experience of reality .
    it is only photographer who can be spot red-handed making an interpretation, or impression of reality . while a poet who can make a whole poem about a scene or face or event.will be able to run away with his or her ( catch ) !!!
    i guess in a modern sophisticated world we need to invest what humanity already established as knowledge. and going back to the stone ages.
    photography been acclaimed as art since 70s and it runs the whole spectrum from conceptual to the illustrative. which means putting photography under the policeman instant interpretation is a mass-human crime

  • Vin Weathermon

    Alexandra; you have to realize that your form of photography is strictly commissioned; by its nature you have to have all the contractual stuff done to produce the work (as would wedding photographers.) However, journalists and artists don’t do this; they shoot “at the moment”. If they did not, there would be only posed, commercial photographs (albeit artistically done, with all paperwork signed off proper.) If you shot the kind of street, journalistic, fine art, etc. that involved “action” and “people interaction” you would find this type of rule/law excessive I feel. Again, your work is excellent…I just wonder how you’d fare with “chance” playing into the equation.

  • Vin Weathermon

    Henry Cartier Bresson is one of my favorites and I agree. To arrest that man for an artistic rendering is just wrong.

  • Katie Scott Aiton
  • Alexandra’s Corner

    Thank you Vin for your kind words regarding my work.

    I am not that type of person. If a helicopter crashes in front of my house, I would calling 911, not run for my camera. This is individual based, and I am not “that” individual.
    “I just wonder how you’d fare with “chance” playing into the equation”.

    That said, if something occurs that I disagree with, I would complain to the right place; I would write a comprehensive complaint, list all pro’s and cons, and if I need to I’ll enlist an attorney too. Gov is elected by the people. People need to stop falling for their lies. When it goes south, and they forget they were elected by the people, the people need to stand up for themselves. IF people rather play on iPhones, then nothing will change for the better anywhere, not just in Hungary. People need to know what’s good for them too, and when they don’t because there’s really no solid guidance anywhere, that’s when things fail.

    Remember, “common sense & manners” don’t have a political status.

  • Jonno Wade

    I work for the local Sheriff’s Office. I not only understand the right and need to photograph me while doing my job, I welcome it. Many people have a misbelief that we are all corrupt, or beat everyone up. I do my job properly, but I am a public servant. I serve the people in a high profile capacity, therefore there is a need to ensure I perform my job properly. I have actually had cameras help me when I was accused of improper force. A camera captured the “poor innocent victim” throwing a punch at me, and then captured that I only used the proper force necessary to subdue him and stop the incident.
    Cameras are necessary in this world. And the above article says NO photos can be taken without permission. This would include news worthy events, etc.
    Also, where do you live? You can take a DSLR into any NFL or Arena, or NCAA football stadium in America, and on a trip I took only a couple years ago across Europe, I attended several soccer matches (football) and was never asked to leave my DSLR behind.

  • Jonno Wade

    And I have zero interest in static, product photography, but I recognize your right to do so.
    Just because you don’t like something does not mean it has no merit, and that nobody else is allowed to take pleasure in it.

  • Stan_LS

    Invasive? There’s no privacy in a public space. Why not just ban people from even looking at you?

  • NancyP

    It seems clear that this law is window dressing for suppression of photojournalism that could be critical of the police, politicians, the state. Very Soviet.

  • Eugen Mezei

    They had no reason to break it down for the lawmakers, as the law was perfect as it was before.
    You could photograph anything you could from the public space. Publishing is (and was before this law too) a totally different problem.

    To take it to the extremes, what will happen if I go around with my film camera without film in pointing it at people and pressing the shutter button?

  • Eugen Mezei

    You are on the streets. People look at you. It doesn’t bother you. (At least if you have no claustrofobia.)
    How does the situation change if one of these people look at you through a camera’s lens and takes a picture?
    As I stated above, we (and the new law) don’t discuss the publishing of photographs. We talk only about needing permission to push the shutter button.

  • Eugen Mezei

    This is a law about permission for taking pictures, not about permission to publish them.

  • Eugen Mezei

    People were sent to the Gulag by tenthousands not for doing something wrong/illegal but for the possibility they could perhaps.

  • Eugen Mezei

    Now image you have a photo session of interiors. Few days later you publish some of the photographs. Let’s say 5 of them. You have all the licenses needed.
    Perfect you think. But not a law similar to photographing people will be emitted for photographing interiors. Few days later the police knocks on your door. They saw in the Exif that the published pictures were #1, #3, #23, #48, #50. You clicked the shutter 45 times for which you can’t present any license or agreement.

  • Eugen Mezei

    It seems people commenting here don’t understand that their pictures could not be published without their consent before also. The part about publishing a picture was (and is) clarly regulated by law. (And protects the right of the persons in the published photographs.)
    If you don’t want your only concern is where your image would be published, than you had nothing to be afraid of before and the new law can be completly irrelevant to you.
    If you don’t like the sound of a clicking shutter… well, than you should approve the new law. In this case allow me to punch you in the nose if you fart or perhaps I don’t like your face.

  • Eugen Mezei

    Why should he? Should I explain you why I breath? None of your business.
    Pressing the shutter on my camera should not bother you more than me breathing in your neighborhood. If you don’t like it you can go where you have plenty of fresh air.

  • Eugen Mezei

    “who is never going to publish those photos”
    That’s the problem of this Corner guy (pun intended, although square would be more appropiate) and of the law. Both are unnecesarily troubled about the “what would happen”. But the “when it happens” was clearly regulated before. The new law is unnecessary, based exactly on the arguments Alexandra is presenting.

  • UG

    Does anyone know if this law also apply to government owned and private security cameras?

  • Shawn

    You sound bitter. Perhaps you should get your country to not criminalize street photography.

  • Seth

    Silly Mary. Your image is already being recorded by the authorities when you are in public. Just look at the cameras on the street corners. Cameras in public keep powerful people and government agencies honest. You should have no complaint if you are abused by the police and the video taken by some stranger is not allowed in court because the police have “privacy rights.” :)

  • Sundra Tanakoh

    Bitter much? I have already been to your country, I have no plans to return, there is nothing there that is interesting, and now that we are prohibited taking street photos, well, your poor sad little country can do without tourist $. Nice comment telling me to cut my hair….rather childish of you.

  • András Gime Gimesi


    Maybe you were at wrong place, that You did not find any interesting here.

    But the essence is that there is nothing prohibited! Anyone can take photos on streets and other public places in Hungary. The law did not changed! The article above is just a huge lie. As stated by many of us from Hungary.

  • thatkeith

    Wait, you do realise that a photograph doesn’t actually steal your soul, right?
    Because I’m struggling to see the reasonableness in your point of view here.

  • Beaugrand_RTMC

    Photographers should stop taking pictures of people, any people, for a week. Or, at the opposite extreme, they should obtain a written model release from everyone in, say, a wedding album- including “paid’ help, like caterers; and send copies of all those model releases to the legislature.

  • blfdjlj

    Sad to see a dictator like Viktor Orban ban people from taking pictures. Hungary right now is unfortunately a complete joke.

  • András Gime Gimesi

    blfdjlj, this article is itself a huge lie. I am a Hungarian photographer, living in Budapest HU EU, and can say, that nothing changed in the law. So anyone can take photos in Hungary everywhere as previously!

  • blfdjlj

    Ok, so this hasn’t been implemented? Makes sense to me. It would be virtually impossible to enforce such a law in the first place, not to mention that it would probably violate constitutional free speech protections.

  • András Gime Gimesi

    The law implemented, but it does not change to the laws before. The only thing happened is that the many separate paragraphs were taken together into one law. But noting changed. That is why this article and it’s title is a lie.

  • András Gime Gimesi

    Hmm… Quite interesting, that I replied to this, but it disappeared… :o Hmm???
    So, my answer was:
    Yes, the law is implemented, but the only thing that happened that they put together in one law the previously separately existed paragraphs _and_ _did_ _not_ changed the previous laws. So anyone can take photos in Hungary exactly as before.

  • András Gime Gimesi

    lady, you’re writing stupid things. The only thing that happened that they put together in one law the previously separately existed paragraphs _and_ _did_ _not_ _change_ the previous laws. So anyone can take photos in Hungary exactly as before.
    I am a Hungarian photographer, living in Budapest Hungary EU, so I exactly know what I am talking about.

  • Empy Cee

    What about Hungarian Police State Surveillance? Or privately-owned store security surveillance? Must police and owners first get permission from the surveyed before security cameras are turned on them? Somehow, I doubt it. (Are defense lawyers now illegal in Hungary, too?)

  • jydalton

    This is how it should be everywhere. Who wants their photo taken by a stranger without their permission. That is why there are such things called…. Photo Releases! There are too many people who assume because they have a digital camera (this includes a phone with a camera) they can be a photographer and with no knowledge of the laws that true professional photographers know this is now what has happened people are being photographed without their permission or with their permission and later retracting their permission and the “photographer” has no true contract to stand on. There are too many people out their who assume the responsibility of photographer without knowing what being a Responsible Photographer.