photo rights, image, image rights, korea, jail, danger, fine,

Don’t take that photo! How illegal photo taking can land you in Korean jail

Illegal Photo Taking Korea

In most countries, photographers can take pictures in public and use them as they would like. Not so in Korea. While our photo-taking comrades abroad can enjoy ownership of the pictures they take, our photographer friends residing in Korea are subject to the Korean “Right to Face,” or “초상권.”

The “Right to Face,” also called “Personality Rights” in some instances, can be broken down into two categories, both of which concern an individual’s right to protect their image with mostly a disregard of location or circumstance.

Right to Privacy – Photo Taking

The first of these two categories is the “Right to Privacy,” or “프라이버시권.” This aspect of the law involves the discernibility of the individual in the photographs. That is, could you identify the individual photographed? Are these individual’s features clearly on display in the photo, making them easily identifiable? The second is the “Right of Publicity,” or “퍼블리시티권,” which is more of a concern for those of celebrity status, as it concerns the lawful use of the photo. In this instance, it is about a right to property and whether the photographed individual’s image is being used in an authorized or licensed way.

The everyday person is more likely to be at risk of the first of these two, as these laws apply to the production of pictures even within the boundaries of public areas. Even in instances of photos taken in public spaces, if the photographer does not have the express permission of those who appear in the picture, these photographed individuals can contact authorities or press charges against the photographer under the pretense that their right to privacy is being violated. The only reason we don’t hear about more of these kinds of cases is because photographed individuals tend to unaware or aware, but not bothered.

Individual Rights in South Korea

While authorities still don’t have the right to cameras or other equipment, other’s individual rights to privacy and publicity can put the everyday street photographer into quite the predicament. So, before you land in some legal trouble, think twice before you take that photo!

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7 thoughts on “Don’t take that photo! How illegal photo taking can land you in Korean jail

  1. A South Korean who's passing by says:

    In Korea, the law does not prescribe about portrait rights and publicity rights. You can shoot as freely as you can in any other countries. It’s just that, culturally/customally, shooting strangers without permission is considered a bit rude.

  2. Brent says:

    Incorrect…. In “most” circumstances, “Privacy of face”. Is tort law, and not criminal, though that is widely misunderstood here, even by some police officers. “Reasonable person” making a claim has to show that their picture in someway caused them financial distress, though that could just be that your photo showing up on the internet cast them or their business in a bad light and made them lose money. Or Mr. Kim got a divorce because their wife found the picture of her husband coming out of a love motel. I say some cases, because in certain places / situations it does pass into the criminal. IE taking photos of bikini wearing women on The beach is considered sexual assault, and you could end up being chemically castrated for it. Additionally if someone asks you to stop taking their picture and you refuse. They now may have a harassment case.

    • Robert MacRiner says:

      So if you believe someone stole from you in South Korea can you photograph that person as an identity to a potential crime

  3. Anthony says:

    Please update with specific legal references about this. The comments suggest the article it not true, but I feel it would be easy to prove what you said is true if you cite the laws you’re talking about. Thanks.

  4. James says:

    I think the thing about rudeness in korea is a bit arbitrary. Lots of Koreans travel abroad and take street photos in foreign climes; why should a foreigner taking non sexual random street photos be subjected to onerous application of the law albeit one that seems somewhat out of step with the rest of the world and act as a fetter to general enjoyment and pursuit of happiness…. I am surprised that lawyers do not challenge these laws in pursuit of the public good as is done elsewhere.

  5. Harry says:

    Well reading this regulations in Korea (does it apply for South Korea?) make me hesitating to do fashion Photography on the street. I understand the Privacy matter but I didn’t know how extreme it could be.

  6. Jerome says:

    Ii don’t actually believe that a street photographer taking random photography on the streets, people faces showing or not has transgressed Korean law. As long as the photography is not a naughty one.

    What I have found in 5 years of residency in Korea and as someone with a legal background from US is that there’s almost no clarity to any legal question in Korea. Majority of the populace are unsavvy about legal things and most answer to anything legal is an anecdote or usual practice that is not really legal if truth be told.

    I also find that most legal advocates do not have the necessary experience due to paucity of cases and legal tests. Just don’t take naughty pictures in Korea or anywhere and you’d be fine.

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