Owning Recordings of the Unowned


Nobody owns light. Light is what reflects off of things at varying wavelengths to be interpreted by our eyes and brains as objects. Some of those objects are inanimate, and some are other people. Some inanimate objects can be owned. People are their own people. Yet we still have the right to see things, to perceive wavelengths of light and interpret it in our brains.

Light also gets absorbed and translated by the various mechanisms that make up cameras, both digital and film. People can take photographs – visualizations of light – and keep still a shot of wavelengths that were there to perceive at a time, for a split second.

We have the right to see objects and people without any violation of things as long as they’re in public or know we’re in their company. We also, legally, have the right to take photographs of anyone in public, and people generally know their photograph is being taken in private when they know someone with a camera is in their company.

I’m not going to get into the sub-topics of intellectual property or privacy or perversion, as much as I’d love to discuss those things at length (too much length, really). At least, the intellectual property side of this isn’t in regards to stealing claim to authorship or making money off of someone else’s work. There’s a privacy aspect I’d like to discuss, but it’s not of the subject and his or her willingness to be in a photograph. It’s about whether sharing the photographs is a social obligation, a right its subjects or other people there can demand, and whether it’s justified to scrutinize why somebody takes photographs.

I take a lot of them. I take them at events, of friends and family and coworkers. When I take photographs of people, and they know I’m doing so because I’m not hiding it and my preferred camera is far from subtle, I take it because I have a hobby of documenting things…and then proceeding to shuffle said documents in as chaotic a way as I can. When the people who were in the photographs or were around when they were taken ask me to share my photos with them, am I obliged to do so?

I might seem creepy if I refuse. It can be easy to avoid, though, if you keep saying you forgot to bring them in whatever format they’re contained. If I take pictures at a work event and don’t bring them to work to share with people, is it creepy that I wanted to take photographs there at all? Does it make people feel like the wavelengths of light reflecting from their surface has been stolen, violated, pirated if I keep these photos to myself? What about other people seeing them, just by chance?

Is it creepy for me to want photos of other people in various places at various points of my life, for no other reason than to have photos for myself?


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