A Los Angeles journalist was attempting to take photos of Walt Disney Hall at dawn but was confronted by a film crew who told him he did not have that right.

Steve Devol also said that a security guard threatened him with arrest.

The big fuss was over the fact that they did not want photographs of the above car leaking out, but they ended up drawing more attention to it in the process.

Devol initially told his story on Flickr where it was then picked up by L.A. Observed, which added more confusion to the matter by stating the following:

Taking pictures on a public street in Los Angeles — of anything visible, as far as I know — is not a law enforcement issue or suspicious activity. Publishing a picture online — now that could get you sued.

Unfortunately, L.A. Observed did not elaborate on the last part, so I turned to Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association, who stated the following:

The First Amendment only protects citizens against the “government” infringing on those rights. As for the crew and private security guards, Mr. Devol had as much right to shoot on a public street as they did. Indeed he may have had even more rights because if they were shooting for a commercial purpose (advertising or theatrical film) they may have needed a permit from the city whereas if he was shooting for editorial or personal use, none should be required. Had the crew actually called the police, one would hope that they would have been aware of that distinction. As to the statement “Publishing a picture online — now that could get you sued,” I take it to mean if you photograph something that is copyrighted or trademarked and then publish it you might be liable in an infringement suit. Also if you publish a photo of someone for a commercial purpose (such as an ad or poster for sale) without their express written consent (model release) you may be sued for profiting from their likeness. Additionally,  if the image holds that person up to “false light” or public ridicule you could be sued. And finally if you shoot from a public place into an area where a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy and then publish those images or recordings you may be liable for invasion of privacy. So while photographers for the most part have the “right” to photograph and record anything on a public street that they can observe, they should always be mindful of what they do with those recordings or images, which are subject to a different set of property rights.

I followed up this response with the following question:

So the question that is bound to pop up, what is an example of something that is copyrighted or trademarked?

This film crew will probably be under the impression that their movie is trademarked, preventing anybody from posting a video of the film set online.

Or what if you photograph a piece of artwork at an art show and post it online?

And his response was:

This is a discussion that could go on forever. Whatever impression the crew was under (just as in Ft. Lauderdale during the movie shoot) there should not be a bar to taking photos on a public street. Maybe the cute little car had been copyrighted or trademarked. In that case the crew could have warned the photographer about the consequences of publishing the photos but not had the right to prevent him from shooting. Photographing and then publishing a piece of artwork is a perfect example of copyright infringement just as if you photographed a photo belonging to someone else without permission and published it. One of the rights of a copyright holder is the exclusive right to make prints or copies (in any medium – scan into digital form, photocopy, digital copy, etc.) of your own work.

So if you live in L.A. and you happen to see that car, feel free to photograph it.