I don’t take much photos of people, although I would like to experience people photography too, but that is not easy in Germany due to strict privacy protection laws, the portrait rights and the personality rights. I could explain that but in short, in Germany you can not take a picture of a stranger without permission. But it’s more complex than that.
There are several exceptions, as far as I know you can for example take pictures of public figures or so-called very important persons if they are in the public, but even with public figures there are situations where you can’t take and publish the pictures. For normal people there are exceptions too, you can for example take a picture at a concert (assumed the event organizer does allow you to take pictures on the event), and logically there would be all kind of people in the crowd, but since this is a public event, you are allowed to take and use the photos even with people in the picture. But that doesn’t mean you can frontal shoot a portrait of a person just because it’s a public event.
Another example where it is allowed to publish photos of strangers makes it more clear, you can for example take a picture of a town’s landmark, but since you are taking a picture of the architecture, the people in the photo are basically just props. Then there is the exception if the person is recognizable but even that makes room for more question. When is a person recognizable? Some sites write that lawyers say the face makes people recognizable but a tatoo can make a person recognizable too. As you can see, all that is not really well defined, that is the reason why a lot of German photographers are insecure about the street photography. There are many juridical snares that make this kind of photography unattractive in Germany.
You see a person in the photo that I attached to this post, if you ask me, the person is unrecognizable. You don’t see the face, and anybody could be an angler and own the same coat. I know in the case of the photo above the chance is equal zero that someone could recognize the person in the photo, but you maybe got my point, when nobody is sure how the law defines the word “recognizable”, it’s not very attractive to take or publish street photographs very often in the countries with these laws. Even if I can’t see how I would threaten the privacy of the person in the photo, I am happy that I have my blog written in English and an international domain with privacy protection that would prevent some unoccupied lawyers to make a WHOIS request to find out my identity and to find opportunities on my blog to earn money, just by searching what I did assume falsely. By the way, in Germany you basically need to be a lawyer anyway to manage a website, because you can not only do a lot wrong with photos but also with the legal notice and many other things that you have to keep up to date, but that is another topic, back to the photography subject.
I myself define the word as mentioned earlier. I don’t think that you can recognize the person in the photo. I don’t see how I would invade his privacy with the photo. There are thousands of angler trying their luck to get some fishes out of this particular river, even if you know which river it is, I assume you will need to put a lot of efforts into the search to find out who that person is, if that is possible at all. I couldn’t care less if someone would take a picture of me from behind. But it’s true, it’s hard to define “recognizable”, because if the guy would take a look to the left or right in the photo, you maybe could see a little bit more of his face, that could make him more recognizable too, and that is the problem with the definition of the word and the whole exceptions of the laws.
I think the idea of the law is good. I wouldn’t like it either if someone would take a picture of my face to publish it anywhere in the web. That is something I don’t even allow myself, except for some small profile pictures here and there or at a closed environment like a social network where I have privacy options that I can set, so why should I allow others to take portraits of my face? I just don’t care if I am incidental in the photo, I am pretty much sure I have been shot often in our city or in the nature, that is ok to me as long as nobody makes close-up shots of me and my face. That means, the idea of the law is good, it’s just that some things are hard to define, when it is allowed and when not.
For the photographer where the laws are similar as the ones in Germany, I think common sense helps a lot, don’t make people become the recognizable main subject in your photo without asking them for permission first. If you agree with that, but you are insecure about the definition of the laws, use the common sense and additionally be extra paranoid register your domain with privacy protection so that no lawyer can cause you trouble because some undefined snares, or just ask the people for permission, although you better get it written on paper. Talking about myself, I am very interested in people or street photography, it’s just not attractive enough to expand the interest due to the unclear laws.
By the way, if you are photographer wanting to take pictures of people in Germany, don’t take my post as legal advise, I am no lawyer, because in addition to my opinion I just wrote what I have read elsewhere.