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News & Insight

Spying On The Neighbors: Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Against “Voyeuristic” Photographer

By Hanssie on August 8th 2013


Score one for the Peeping Toms out there.

A New York judge has dismissed a case against photographer Arne Svenson who was accused of invasion of privacy for photographing his neighbors through their windows. Svenson, whose images in his series, “The Neighbors,” depict people in their apartments  in the  building adjacent to his, exhibited his images in a gallery showing last spring. Unbeknownst to them, Svenson was using a telephoto lens to capture the images of people in their glass walled luxury building doing everyday tasks.

One of the subjects, who recognized themselves and their children in the images, sued Arne for a violation of their of privacy and argued that the photographs of their children were used for commercial purposes.

[rewindPhotographer Threatened by Lawsuit by Lady Who Used His Image]

Case Dismissed

Ruling that the photographs were protected by the first amendment, Judge Eileen  A. Rakower dismissed the lawsuit against Svenson citing that the photographs were works of art and not for commercial trade.” The value of artistic expression outweighs any sale that stems from the published photos,” she ruled.

The judge cited that New York state civil rights laws “yield to an artist’s protections under the First Amendment under the circumstances presented.”


After Svenson’s victory, the exhibit ended and he took down the images from his website and Facebook page and vowed not to use the images in the future.

I can see the artistry in his images and it may not violate any New York laws of privacy, but there is something creepy about someone unknowingly taking images of people through the windows of their place of sanctuary.

Some might argue that in most of the images, the subject is unidentifiable and therefore their privacy shouldn’t be called into question. I can see both sides of the argument here, but at what point should the line be drawn between  artistic freedom and privacy?

Would love to hear your thoughts and comments about the matter, while I go draw my curtains…

(via @PDN)


Hanssie is a Southern California-based writer and sometimes portrait and wedding photographer. In her free time, she homeschools, works out, rescues dogs and works in marketing for SLR Lounge. She also blogs about her adventures and about fitness when she’s not sick of writing so much. Check out her work and her blog at Follow her on Instagram

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Morgan Glassco

    Basically in my mind, if people can see it, you should expect for it to be photographed.

    While creepy and not something I would encourage, can you imagine how hard it would be to define and then police which things people are allowed to take pictures from their own home?

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  2. Domenico Foschi

    I read an article a few months ago about this.
    What is not mentioned here is that the neighbors that Svenson photographed were living in a building whose external walls were made entirely of glass. To expect privacy in such a building requires something close to insanity and a belligerent nature. The fact that Svenson was using a camera makes little difference when it comes to privacy. As someone said, there are curtains, but then that would defeat the purpose of living in such a building. I have seen Svenson’s images and in no way they are exploitive and they do not show any face, in the contrary they are very tastefully done and are very far from being of a sexual or any other objectionable nature. That judge is good.

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  3. 4urSafety

    Why isn’t the NSA spying program getting as much uproar as this situation? And they don’t even bother with the window. They use your cable box, laptop camera, and a plethora of other devices that you never draw curtains on…but not a peep. If you’re ok with it in the name of safety, then your thinking is broken.

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  4. JC

    Seriously, some of you dismiss this as no big deal?
    I’d say the photographer has every responsibility to ask the people inside their homes if he can photograph them. He’d have to ask permission to pull up a lawn chair in their back yard. The nature of the photograph is really not relevant — some folks are obsessed with the “sex” of it all.
    Sometimes just knowing where small children live and knowing how hard it is to protect them — yeah, pretty scary. But some of you seem to think that just because the curtains aren’t drawn, that some total stranger can just photograph you and your family and compromise them on where they live, what they do, their surroundings … I hope you don’t ever have to endure an Amber Alert.

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    • marco

      yeah, it’s creepy, but nowhere near what the government does, in order to ‘protect’ us. Of course ‘the government’ itself is never corrupt and so everything they know about us is safe.

      Also, i think your getting confused with what the article is about… that art is protected, that it doesn’t hold a rubbish spot in the eye of the law…. it means something, and holds a special place…

      Had the photographer had a hundred photos of the family, and hundreds more of kids, trust me, this wouldn’t have happened, no pedophile is going to get protected. It’s not protecting pedo’s… it’s protecting art… and yeah, it’s not nice to photograph people, but think again, what if you were naked in your living room showing yourself off, although not illegal, you could be cited… this again would be investigated, to determine whether it was done purposefully, or you happenstance.

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  5. JG

    As someone already stated, CURTAINS. :) You have no right to NOT be viewed, OR photographed, if you are viewable from a public space. Me taking a picture in my mind’s eye and taking one with a digital camera is no different from a “privacy rights” perspective.

    There was no invasion of privacy here at all, as far as I can see it.

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  6. Christian

    Thanks judge for supporting our 1st amendment right. Score one for competence.

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  7. Dan

    While I personally feel this was invasive, the justice system has now taken a thin line and made it anorexic. George Orwell, your prediction, maybe three decades early, is becoming reality.

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  8. Abel

    Call me old fashioned but, I think it was wrong of him to do this.
    A person’s privacy at home is a sacred thing.
    Especially if I have children and a wife.
    It doesn’t matter that we aren’t doing anything sexual, it’s just really unnerving to know
    that you’ve being observed at your sanctuary.
    Would you like people to take pictures of you while you’re sitting in your PJ’s cuddling with your significant other and indulging in some secret guilty pleasure like watching home decoration shows on the tele?
    Would you like it if someone took those pictures and actually SOLD them to other people?

    Street photography is all right. You’re out in public and it’s fair game. You’re on public property, everything you do is “public” which is why we behave in a manner which is appropriate for being in public.
    Being at home is a place where you don’t have the pressure to behave that way. You can act silly and unreserved without the fear of someone watching you.
    This doesn’t have to do with curtains or it’s their “fault” for having big windows.
    It has to do with making money off of someone’s private moments.

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    • thomas

      But where does “public” start or end? if i can see you from my place, or from the street then isn’t that concidered “public”? if these images are not covered under the guise of public information, then police conducting stake-outs and any photos or recordings should then be not admissable in court. I think that purchasing a home or apt with big windows and conducting your life with the drapes open, is an understood principal that you are in “public.”
      here in texas, our cars e an extension of our home. so if someone takes a photo of me to make a profit while in my car i should have the recourse to have them remove it or sue for damnages?
      all in all, if you have big windows and do not want to be seen, close the drapes.

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    • marco

      After winning the artist took down the exhibit and photos from his website… So, either he was expecting this, or learned to respect privacy in peoples most private spaces, i think the former….

      On a different note, It’s become apparent that our government knows that of which you are scared of a single man knowing… cable companies know what we watch on tv, these if asked to can procure this information, google also condenses our searched information, and can provide that as well… we know what happens with the phone companies, and we now have more ‘public’ cameras being put up at a frightening rate, these now being connected to online servers for ‘protection’ against deletion.

      If your scared of a single man, who for the most part tried to avoid easy recognition of his subjects, perhaps your missing the big picture of who can easily that and much more of which frightens you.

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  9. Steve

    I think as long as the nature of the photo cannot be perceived as anything of a sexual nature or what I would call private moments, like picking your nose or biting your toenails then it shouldn’t really be a problem. I agree with Curtis, if you have curtains, nets, blinds or voiles then use them, otherwise you’re putting yourself on display.

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  10. curtis

    umm, they are called curtains. Been around for centuries. If you’re going to do you business in front of your windows you can’t expect privacy. Even the drones will look into your windows.

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