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Almost everyone these days has a cell phone with a camera (still and/or video). But many people do not know the details of the legal restrictions on the use of such devices.

By now you have probably heard numerous stories about mayhem at various Black Friday shopping sales. One of the worst seems to have happened at a WalMart in Buckeye, Arizona where a man was bloodied in an arrest by police officers. The scene was captured on numerous videos, mostly by cell phones.

We have received no reports of anything this bad happening in our community but we were contacted by a regular reader who was at a store in Greenville on Friday morning as the Black Friday sale started. He reported that the crowd, for the most part was orderly, but when some pushing broke out people began to video the happenings with their cell phone. Soon thereafter a “manager” came over and told the customers to stop taking pictures and eventually order one woman to leave the store. Not one of the “pushers” but one of the videographers. We were asked “can they do that?”

So if you’re interested in the answer to that question it is “yes.” The owner, or an authorized agent of the owner, can order anyone to leave private property for any reason they choose. If the person fails to leave after having been warned that they will be charged with trespassing then the person can be arrested. You cannot be legally prohibited from taking pictures or video in a public place either by the property owner or the police, but you can be ordered to leave the private property. If, however, you are on a public street, road or parking lot you cannot be arrested legally for taking pictures, even of the police as they carry out their duties unless you are materially interfering with them carrying out their duties. But you can video them arresting a person on public property. The key here is whether you are on private property or public property.

On private property the owner cannot prohibit you from taking video or pictures but they can make you leave. On public property you have a right to take pictures, even of the police or other public officials, as long as you are not interfering with the officer’s performance of his duty.

And you may be interested in this point. Laws vary by state, as you can read in the article above. But in North Carolina what was reviewed above is generally the law. However, and very ironically, there are some public places that are off limits to cameras. Courtrooms are one such area, but public meetings are specifically excluded from restrictions on cameras as long as the recording does not interfere with the meeting. Under North Carolina’s Public Meetings Law sponsors of public meetings are responsible for facilitating the filming or photographing of public meetings to the extent practical to do so. But this does not apply to courts. There the judge determines what can or cannot be done. The N. C. Supreme Court prohibits videoing their sessions. Go figure.