The First Amendment trumps privacy, rules New York judge in 'The Neighbors' lawsuit

In May I wrote about the controversial exhibition of photos by Arne Svenson, 'The Neighbors', hosted at the Julie Saul gallery in Chelsea, New York. If you didn't have the chance to read about it then, Svenson had stood in his flat and used a long lens to photograph the occupants of the glass-walled flats opposite his own. The residents of the Zinc Building met the images and the exhibition with a distinct sense of violation and some of them chose to pursue Svenson through the courts. One such case, presented by the Foster family, was presided over and has subsequently been dismissed by New York state Judge Judge Eileen A. Rakower. She has ruled that the photos were protected by the First Amendment and that the images were not in violation of New York's civil rights laws.

The Fosters had claimed that because the photos were available for sale, they constituted commercial use, which breached laws governing the use of people's likenesses commcercially without their consent. Judge Rakower, however, determined that the images were not used for commercial purposes as artists are at liberty to create and to sell works of art that resemble individuals without their consent.

In this instance, however, the primary purpose of the photos was artistic, and consequently the First Amendment trumps privacy. According to Judge Rakower: 'The value of artistic expression outweighs any sale that stems from the published photos.'

(Heds up to A Photo Editor and PDN)

About a Photograph - the stories behind iconic images

Saul Loeb/Agence France-Presse Do you ever look at a photo and think 'Heavens-to-Betsy, how did the photographer manage that?' Not necessarily the geeky 'What aperture did you use?' type of questions, but the 'Where were you standing? You were standing, weren't you?' or the 'How did you see that one coming?' startled enquiry. Think Tank Photo, the guys who make the Really Good camera bags, have just started a three-weekly video series called 'About a Photograph', which answers those sorts of questions.

Each episode takes an iconic image—news, wildlife, or sports, contemporary or classic—and the background, the insight, and the story behind it is narrated by its photographer. The series is produced by Kurt Rogers and Deanne Fitzmaurice, Think Tank's co-founders and award-winning photojournalists themselves.

The series kicks off with Agence France-Presse's Saul Loeb talking about his Presidential Hug photo, captured on the 2012 US presidential election campaign trail, when a surprised President Obama was lifted off his feet by a Florida pizza shop proprietor.

You can keep up with About a Photograph on Think Tank's blog.