In Public
Amateur movie makers are unlikely, in the course of normal movie making in a public place, to have any problems with the police unless they are causing an obstruction. Neither members of the media nor the general public need permits to film or photograph in public places. Police officers cannot stop you from filming or photographing incidents or police personnel. If your filming is questioned by a police officer, explain calmly and politely what you are doing.

Chief Police Officers have made it clear that only highly unusual circumstances should prevent the taking of pictures in a public place. You can download here statements from:

  • The Association of Chief Police Officers (covering England, Wales and Northern Ireland)
  • The Association of Chief Police Officers of Scotland

It might be helpful to print these statements out and carry them with you when using your camcorder.

If a police officer insists that you stop filming, then do so. There may be security issues of which you are unaware. However, many police officers and, to a greater extent, private security staff are quick to quote the terror act to prevent people from taking images. You do have the freedom to film but the Police can, and will on occasion, use a section of the Terrorism Act 2000 to question your ID and why you are filming. It is always best to cooperate and, as long as you do, most police officers will generally allow you to continue.

In Private
Technically, all of Britain is owned by somebody. Owners may be private individuals, companies, organisations or the Queen (e.g. a “public park” is probably owned by the local town council). Any of those landlords can, and often will impose limits on photography or filmmaking as they wish. Mostly these landlords will not restrict non-commercial photography, but commercial work usually requires permission and sometimes payment. A licence or permit may be required if you are filming an event where the organisers’ and/or the owner’s permission is needed. In practice, taking pictures from the public highway or many places generally accessible to the public is unlikely to be challenged. Council-owned parks and buildings, transport stations, church property, shopping malls, theatres, stadiums and the like usually do enforce restrictions. Filming on public transport is the same as on private land; you do need the owners’ or operators’ consent.

Filming People
No one can copyright their appearance! Britain does not have specific guarantees of privacy in law, so no one can stop you from filming them… provided you are not breaking some other law to do so – such as trespassing. Be careful not to film people in what they might reasonably believe to be private situations, e.g. changing rooms, changing on a beach or toilets, sunbathing in their garden, etc.

There is no law against photographing or filming children, provided the images are decent. It is still wise to obtain permission, if possible from the parents. When you ask for permission to film children it can often be useful to keep the camera running when that permission is granted. You then have a record, if your filming is challenged again later. Schools, which are private premises, do usually forbid it. So be sensible. If your filming upsets someone try to calm the situation and, if necessary, stop. Be careful about filming in “prohibited places” without permission. Typical prohibited places include military establishments, aircraft and ships, most airports, naval dockyards and many telecommunications centres. You may be challenged by security forces. Once again a polite explanation of what you are doing and why may well resolve the situation, but you may be told to stop.

In General
Keep in mind that no one has the right to erase your pictures without a court order – not least because they might be used as evidence in any court case against you! With so many people filming events, usually with their smartphones, any footage can often be a useful tool for the police to discover exactly what has happened. If you are requested to delete your video you can and should refuse. No one has the right to demand that you delete any images or wipe your memory card or tape. Similarly, no one is entitled to a copy or original of any images you may have taken, unless you have agreed on that in a signed contract with them.

If you are on private property and a security guard asks you not to film – and this includes signs posted on buildings – you are required to honour that request. Stop filming or move to a public highway immediately. Nevertheless, you don’t need to produce any ID for security guards or to give them your address. Private parties have very limited rights to detain you against your will, and they can be subject to legal action if they harass you.

In Summary
What can I do? You can photograph and film people in public places. You can film from a public highway. You can film the police in the street, whether dealing with an incident or just ‘on the beat’. Even if you are asked to stop filming you can keep any footage you may have already shot. You can film children in public places but it is wise to try to obtain permission if possible.

What can’t I do? You cannot film on private property without permission. Shopping Centres are particularly strict about this, as are Bus, Train and other transport operators. Finding the right people to ask can sometimes be difficult but, once permission is sought it is often granted. You are unlikely to get permission to film defence establishments, like naval dockyards and military bases. You cannot film the police inside a private building. You cannot film people if they have a legitimate expectation of privacy, for instance in their home and garden.

Guidance Only
We are not lawyers and offer this information for practical guidance only. The law is complex and none of the above should be quoted as legal advice. Remember, also, that all the above refers to the UK. If you are filming abroad you should make yourself aware of the local rules and regulations. New technology such as longer lenses, increasing use of drones, and focused microphones increase your opportunities to invade privacy and to inadvertently do so.

Exercise common sense
When in doubt, make every effort to obtain permission. It may well be a good idea to have as many documents about your or your club’s activities to hand to reassure anybody who stops you that you are a bona fide amateur. Avoid confrontation. If you are asked to stop filming do so, unless there is a good reason for you to continue.

Every individual is responsible for researching and knowing what can and can’t be done, whilst remaining within the law.