I am seeing Ghost Hunters doing videos and taking pictures in cool abandoned places all over the world. The shots are amazing, and the spooky locations add to the atmosphere. However, many of them are committing a crime and documenting it for their own prossecution.
“Technically, all of Britain is owned by somebody. Owners may be private individuals, companies, organisations or the Queen (e.g. a “public park” is probably owned by the local town council.) Any of those landlords can, and often will, impose limits on photography or film making as they wish. Mostly these landlords will not restrict non-commercial photography, but commercial work often requires permission and sometimes payment. A licence or permit may be required if you are filming an event where the organisers’ and/or the owner’s permission is needed. In practice, taking pictures from the public highway or many places generally accessible to the public is unlikely to be challenged. Council owned parks and buildings, transport stations, church property, shopping malls, theatres, stadiums and the like usually do enforce restrictions. Filming on public transport is the same as on private land; you do need the owners’ or operators’ consent.” – The IAC, To Film or not to Film
Should I Hunt in this Abandoned Place?
The short answer is no do not even consider it. The long answers is, do the work and research to make your Ghost Hunt legal an legitimate. Part of the hunt should be your research into the history of the place. This research should lead you to the owners or at least the managers of the property. At that point, there is no excuse for not asking permission to enter to film or take pictures. If the answer is ‘no’ then move on to the next location.
It might be the best place on the planet and the most haunted in your area. If you do not have permission to enter you are committing a crime under UK law. Any photos or video you take in there, the courts might use as evidence to convict you and your group. Your actions will not just affect you they damage the entire ghost hunting community, painting us as criminals who will break the law. It also makes it harder for future Ghost Hunters to get legitimate permissions to film in locations. Finally, any insurance you have will be invalid if you do not have permission to use an Abandoned Place. The risks are too great if you do not have permission so do not do it.
How do I get Permission?
This is the golden question. If you have done your homework you should have looked at land records and the chain of ownership. At this point, you should know who the current owner or manager of the property is, so there is no excuse to contact them. It is better to do this sooner rather than later when you have done more research.
Most property owners I have ever dealt with have been reasonable, this is not just for Ghost Hunting, but also for filming a feature film. Do not get your heart set on a location and if the answer is ‘no’ move on to the next location. There are plenty of Abandoned Places around the country.
Finding the current owner is the hardest part, but it should also be part of your research. You can look at the land registry and speak to the local council to see who owns the property. Some Abandoned Places may have security, so if you can find their placard or the security guard you can ask the security company who owns or manages the property. There are many ways to find out who owns or manages the property, and you should do everything you can to find them.
If you do find the owners or management, you can find many templates for location agreements online. Look for film location agreements and you will find a few sample templates. Many of these are in plain English as they are written so most normal people can understand them. Just put your details and the details of the location in there and ask them if they would sign one. You will need a signed agreement, to cover you on insurance anyway so you can use that as a reason for the owner or management to sign it.
One of the key elements of the location agreement is the rights of any images, audio, and video footage. Make sure you retain all these rights worldwide and in all current and future formats. You may also need to show any insurance documents when you get this agreement signed, so if you have this keep them at hand. If you do not have insurance, it is at the owner’s discretion and your own risk if you get permission.
What if I cannot find the Owner?
There is no excuse for not trying to find the owner or manager of abandoned places, and this is also how the law will see things. If you can prove you have made all reasonable efforts to find the owner or manager, then if you do get into trouble you might have a better defence. Reasonable efforts are not just taking a quick look at the council’s records, you must follow every lead and contact everyone you can to speak to the owner or manager. Leave no stone unturned when doing this.
Set a reasonable timescale for a response to the first contact, I use 3 months. If there is no contact after that time, then either the owner does not care about the property. Or it could be that the contact details you have are out of date and there is no reasonable way to contact them. Document all of this, and time spent on your search.
If you go through all reasonable efforts to contact the owner or manager, and you fail they might be okay with you retrospectively asking for permission when they contact you. Or if you go to court then you can throw yourself to the mercy of the judge saying you went above and beyond to contact the owner or manager. However, without a signed location agreement, you are still breaking the law, so we cannot advocate this method and you do this at your own risk.
What can happen to Me?
That is down to the judge, and the property owner or manager if you do not have permission. The Location agreement grants you the rights to use anything you get there. Without it, any photos, video and audio belong to the property owner. They can ask for all your original files and ask you to delete all copies.
Health and Safety
One other reason to try to make contact with the owner is that you have no idea what the state the property is in. If you contact the owner, they will have their assessments and can advise you from there. You do not know the state of the structure if there is anything poisonous or other hazardous materials are on site. Abandoned Places are a risk to you and your team, do not take those risks unless you know what the lay of the land is.