The Case of the Peeping Photographer

Can an artist take pictures of his neighbors and then sell them without permission? You be the judge.

By Alyssa Jung
Also published in Reader's Digest Magazine February 2014

you be the judgeNoma Bar for Reader’s Digest

The Verdict:

Nearly three months after the Fosters sued, Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Eileen Rakower ruled that Arne Svenson’s work is art, which is considered free speech and therefore is protected by the First Amendment. “While it may make [the Fosters] cringe to think that their private lives can find their way into an art exhibit, there is no redress under the current laws of New York,” wrote Judge Rakower. The decision stated that Svenson didn’t need his neighbors’ permission to display and sell the photos of them.

Though he was not legally required to do so, Svenson removed photos 
of the Fosters from his website and agreed not to take any new pictures or print, exhibit, or publish any of the Fosters’ photos in the future.

In September 2013, the Fosters filed an appeal with the Appellate Division of the Manhattan Supreme Court. The case is pending.

Was justice served? Give us your opinion in the comments.

  • Your Comments

    • Cynthia Michelle Hughes

      Way I see it, what this artist did was violate the property and personal rights of people in their own homes. What he did was, to me as bad as trespassing and theft. He used his camera to break into people’s homes and stole their images to sell. I know the state I am from does see things my way, but New York state likes to reward the criminal and punish the victim. Oh, and yes I see Svenson very much as a criminal.

    • gtbmel .

      I think if someone is performing at a public event then there is an expectation that photos may be taken. However, just going about your daily life there is an expectation of privacy. Yes people can look at me when I’m shopping but taking a picture crosses the line.

    • jhg6

      That family needs to put up some window coverings! I have all glass in front and in back of my house. I know that people can possibly see in. Whenever I don’t want people to see in, I shut the sheer curtains, or the opaque curtains, if it is at night. If you let people look in, it is your problem.

    • Amarna

      So this guy gets away with stalking this family, taking pictures of them partially clothed, which includes pictures of their partially clothed children and is able to continue to publicly display and sell these photos, by claiming its art! Does New York not have criminal laws prohibiting stalking, vogeur ism, invasion of privacy and pedophelia?

    • anonymous

      This photographer should be arrested, he should ask for the people’s permission first.

    • Dr. Pittman

      I think there is more crime to a person taking and posting a picture of an unsuspecting passerby without one’s approval. For the neighbors not to put coverings to their floor to ceiling windows, I think they have a inhibition to exhibitionism. While the thought of peering through such windows can be breathtaking, liberating and a great source of sunlight, these neighbor had to be cognizant of the fact that in this day of identity theft someone is always watching, thus even knowing when they are in their home or away. I would love to see the art of the the photos.