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LawCall - Privacy

What are some things you do in the course of a day? Have coffee, eat breakfast, get the kids ready for school, maybe run around half naked in the process of getting yourself ready for work?

Or perhaps, you’re having a family bbq and the little ones are playing in the pool.  All of these things are done within the confines of your home and back yard, so you expect privacy. In fact, you probably don’t even think about it; it is assumed.

Now, suppose you’re walking down the street past the local art gallery when you see a photograph of your family on prominent display for an art show? Just imagine, for a moment, how shocking this would be.

Such was the case for a New York family. They lived in a high-rise with floor-to-ceiling windows and had no idea that a photographer, living in a building across the way, was capturing their every move.

Photographer, Arne Svenson, watched the family going about their day-to-day activities and shot photos with his camera, many of which ended up in a photo gallery show called, The Neighbors.

The couple learned of the photos when they read a review in the local newspaper. The art show promotion featured pictures of their children with faces and partially-clad bodies easily discernable. They were mortified, as anyone would be.

Martha and Matthew Foster sued Svenson under New York’s Civil Rights law, which states that a person’s name or picture may not be used for advertising or sales purposes without consent. They asked the court to block the sale of these images, for which Svenson was charging as much as $7,500.

Svenson argued that he is not a Peeping Tom with a camera – but what else would anyone think him to be? “I don’t photograph anything salacious or demeaning. I hope my neighbors can see the beauty in my treatment of them,” Svenson commented to a local reporter.

A Manhattan Supreme Court judge ruled that Svenson’s photos are art, which is free speech, and therefore protected by the First Amendment.

The Fosters have appealed and are awaiting a ruling from the Appeals Court.

What do you think? Will you re-think your expectation of privacy in your own home?

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