A Law Favoring Photographers

21 04 2011

I have been following an exciting bill in the Connecticut legislature that for explicitly takes steps to protect photographers rights to make pictures.

In the face of recent efforts by other states to arrest photographers and charge them with violating wiretapping laws Connecticut’s S.B. No. 1206 is refreshing.

Contrary to some reports, the bill does not give photographers the right to take pictures in public- that right already exists. What the bill does is give photographers a right to sue police who interfere with their right to photograph. In many cases, you can only bring a lawsuit if the suit is authorized. A violation of a civil right is generally an appropriate grounds for suit, and in fact many photographers across the country have received settlements from police departments after being arrested unjustly. However, having an explicit cause of action will make it easier for photographers to bring suit.

In my opinion, it is not the possibility of a lawsuit that would make this bill favorable. Sure it is nice to get something for your trouble. But what matters here is the pressure that this would put on police departments to make sure that their officers respect the First Amendment and leave photographers alone.

The bill is short enough that I can post the entire version here:

Any peace officer, as defined in section 53a-3 of the general statutes, who interferes with a person taking a photographic or digital still or video image of such peace officer or another peace officer acting in the performance of such officer’s duties shall be liable to such person in an action at law, suit in equity or other proper proceeding for redress, provided such person, while taking such image, did not obstruct or hinder any peace officer in the performance of such officer’s duties.

According to the Hartford Courant an amendment has been added that exempts officers “if the officer had a reasonable belief it would interfere with an investigation, violate the privacy of a victim or impact the public’s safety.” I’m hoping to get a copy of the amended text- it is not currently posted on the General Assembly website. An amendment like this could take away the teeth of the law or even make things worse if poorly written.

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Tuesday Time Killer

19 04 2011

If your looking for some time to kill you might find this pissing war between a Boston TV station and some local street photographers – well, I won’t call it entertaining, but it is almost interesting.

Here is the original story by WBZ in Boston:

http://boston.cbslocal.com/2011/04/15/downtown-crossing-street-photographers-crossing-the-line/

And here is a response by one of the photographers in question:

http://thephotorecession.webs.com/

The photographs in the blog are not great, but they seem to be attempts to mimmick good street photography. The photographers look a little like they don’t know what they are doing, and I’m guessing they go after their subjects in that way because they are still learning how to shoot. People apparently are annoyed, but I am annoyed when people approach me on the street passing out leaflets or screaming political stuff or bible verses – the fact is that when you are in public people do annoying things.

The TV station seemed to find it interesting that legs were used in the photos. I don’t know what is in the mind of these photographers, but I do know that in my mind, legs make great graphic elements. In fact every photographer I know has taken photos using legs as a framing device or as a graphic element in a photo.

I found it almost laughable, and certainly hypocritical, that the street photographers wanted the TV station to stop videotaping them.

Bottom Line Regarding the TV Station: The TV station ran a story that is not a story; these are amateurs; legs make good graphic elements in photos; I have seen no evidence that they have done anything wrong and the tv station showed them doing nothing wrong. Stories like this make it harder for me to do my job as a photographer.

Bottom Line Regarding the Photographers: Okay, you have a right to take pictures in public. But seriously, so does the TV station. Also, if you want to be a better photographer, you need to learn to relate to your subjects. Find ways to shoot that don’t make your subjects so uncomfortable and you will see how drastically your images improve. Pick a scene and stick with it for a while. If you have confidence in your photography, your subjects will have confidence in you. Darting in and out of pedestrian traffic like a squirrel, it seems like you want to photograph people, but you are afraid of them. It’s very hard to take good pictures of people when you act like you are afraid of them.





Cameras and Federal Courts

17 04 2011

I have for you today some long overdue commentary on last year’s case of  Hollingsworth v. Perry,  130 S. Ct. 705 (2010), the ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States regarding cameras in federal courts. As the Court blocked an attempt by a federal court in California to broadcast the trial to other courthouses throughout the country, it was seen as a blow to the efforts to bring cameras into federal courts. It was indeed a loss, but there were many positive elements to it.

First, the Court explicitly said that it was not ruling on the issue of cameras in the courtroom, rather the ruling was limited to the fact that the comment period for changing the local rules was not long enough (thus avoiding the constitutional question). This means it lives to fight another day.

Second, the decision was 5 to 4, which means that 4 of the justices would have allowed it to proceed, and if only one of the justices in the majority truly voted based on the rule-making violation, we are in good shape.

Third, I noticed something very interesting, and I wonder if anyone else has picked up on it. The Court explicitly and implicitly approved of, the presence of the audio-visual equipment itself in the courtroom when it stated, “[w]e therefore stay the court’s January 7, 2010, order to the extent that it permits the live streaming of court proceedings to other federal courthouses.” Hollingsworth v. Perry, 130 S. Ct. 705, 709 (2010).

In fact, the Court cited the existing rules of the Ninth Circuit, (pre-experiment) which allow the “Electronic transmittal of courtroom proceedings and presentation of evidence within the confines of the  courthouse” Id at 710-711.

The majority also discusses approvingly the limited broadcast of the Oklahoma City Bombing case, without mention of the impact of the cameras in the actual courtroom, as well as the statute: 42 USCS § 10608, which opens the door to closed-circuit viewing of criminal trials. Of course closed- circuit viewing of trials cannot occur without a video camera.

In the temporary stay that it issued two days earlier, the Court explicitly referred to transmissions within the same courthouse when it stayed the broadcast “except as it permits streaming to other rooms within the confines of the courthouse in which the trial is to be held.” Hollingsworth v. Perry, 175 L. Ed. 2d 878 (2010).

This tells us that the issue for the Supreme Court is no longer the presence of the technology as it was 45 years ago in Estes v. Texas. It is the impact of what will happen outside the courtroom. The great thing about limiting the issue to the impact of the broadcast is that there is little teeth in that argument. The Court has been loath to restrict the publication of truthful information obtained in the courthouse, and has outright rejected many efforts to limit publication of courthouse records and testimony, even when extremely sensitive facts were at stake.