Iowa Law Would Criminalize Publishing Farm Exposes

18 03 2011

Author’s Note: This is a cross- post from my NPPA Advocacy blog.

Recently we told you about a bill banning photography of farms in Florida. We have learned that there is a similar bill, prohibiting photography (among other things) of farms and crops without the permission of the owner. The Iowa bill has been compared to the Florida bill, but a quick read of the bill shows that it is far worse. To Iowa’s credit, it appears that photography from the street wouldn’t be affected, however, mere possession and distribution of undercover photography of a farm would be a crime. This elevates editors and news organizations to the status of criminals if they publish, or even possess undercover footage of farms, crops or animal facilities.

Specifically the bill states that “distribution or possession” of photographs that were illegally obtained (through violations of earlier portions of the bill). Under the proposed law, “A person is guilty of animal facility interference if the person. . . [p]ossess or distribute a record which produces an image or sound occurring at the animal facility which” is  a “reproduction of a visual or audio experience occurring at the animal facility, including but not limited to a photographic or audio medium” without the consent of the owner.

To give some perspective to the blatant unconstitutionality of this bill consider this – the only time that the Supreme Court has upheld a law that bans distribution and possession of any kind of photography it was a law against possessing and distributing child pornography. As powerful of a lobby farmers are, elevating exposes of farms to the level of child pornography is absurd and I can’t see how this would hold up. Just last year the Supreme Court ruled that a law banning possession and distribution of video of cruelty to animals was unconstitutional. See U.S. v. Stevens, 130 S.Ct. 1577 (2010). The intent of that law was to prevent animal cruelty but even it went too far (the NPPA signed an amicus brief advocating for the overturning of that bill).

The government can’t even prevent the possession and distribution of documents that put U.S. security interests at risk so it is hard to imagine how the public relations interests of farms would be considered more compelling than U.S. security interests.

Several years ago (2001), in a case called Bartnicki v. Vopper, the Supreme Court ruled that when a news organization lawfully obtained a recording, they could not be held liable for the publication of the details of the recording, even though the recording itself was illegally obtained. The Iowa law would make a news organization liable for publishing a recording, even if the news organization had nothing to do with obtaining the recording.

The NPPA has contacted lawmakers in Iowa regarding the bill.

Journalists and Photographers in Iowa should be very concerned about this bill. While it would no doubt be struck down in court, it is much easier for all of us if it never makes it to the governor’s desk.

From HF589:

Sec. 9.1(a)(2) makes it a crime to “Possess or distribute a record which produces an image or sound occurring at the animal facility” which was taken without permission of the owner.

Sec. 14.1.b makes it a crime to “Possess or distribute a record which produces an image or sound occurring at the crop operation which was” taken without permission of the owner.

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How to be a safe and lawful Bluebonnet-er

28 03 2010


Shooting bluebonnets is one of the classic spring pastimes for photographers in Texas. For those of us who don’t shoot flowers for a living (and who does, really) it is a great way to rediscover the joy of just taking pictures for an afternoon.

But as with all things, it is important to keep it safe. I was happy to find this article (thanks to Helen Montoya Henrichs) that clarifies a few things- namely, that it is not illegal to pick the bluebonnets (but it is totally uncool to drive your car over them). Oh, yeah, and, no trespassing.

http://www.txdps.state.tx.us/director_staff/public_information/pr032602.htm





Newark Cameraman assaulted by police is suing.

5 11 2009

In general, I don’t do cartwheels when I hear about lawsuits. But this one makes me happy. A TV photographer in New Jersey has filed a lawsuit against a police officer who arrested him while the photographer was filming a peaceful demonstration. Apparently the only thing violent about this demonstration was the officer’s clash with the photographer.

This video shows the original event. Can you say “settle now.”

Dear Police of America: Stop violating the constitutional rights of journalists. We are journalists and we will get really good evidence.





Colbert on NPPA and Photography in Train Stations

3 02 2009

For years, I have been involved in fighting attempts to ban photography in public places like train stations. Yet photographers continue to be harassed and we continue to have to make a fuss.

Recently, a case caught the attention of the Colbert Report and the following video ran last night (Feb. 2). The absurdity of our point comes across clear as day. The shout out to NPPA (and the bloody lettering to go with it) made my day.

The good news is that NPPA has gotten Amtrak to agree to review and update its police guidelines in regards to photography. But that, of course is not as funny as what happened to set it all off.

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Zapped- young campaign sign thief gets a jolt of reality

30 10 2008

One of the fun things about studying law is that I am constantly readind stories in the news and thinking- that reminds me of a case.

This happened this morning when I saw a link to a story about a North Carolina man who rigged up his election sign to act basically as an electric fence. People kept stealing the campaign signs in his yard, so he rigged the sign to deliver an electric shock. And then he set up a video camera.

A 9-year-old boy tried to steal his sign and replace it with another. He got zapped and ran off.

The parents of the boy, apparently not angry that their child was committing trespass and stealing someone’s property, complained to the police.

So here’s a question- can you set up a trap to hurt thieves, when you know someone is likely to steal your property? Like so many legal questions, the answer is maybe.

We read a case in torts, Katko v. Briney, where a man rigged a shotgun trap and a thief was seriously injured when he set off the trap. You may be surprised to know that the property owner was found liable in civil court for injuring the thief.

However, the reason is a general principle that property is not as valuable as human life, so while you can use force to protect property, you can’t use deadly force. This of course is only relevant if the victim’s life is not in danger. In Katko, the victim of the theft was over a mile away, so there was no risk to his life- therefore, he didn’t have a right to seriously injure the thief.

Applying this to the campaign sign case, I would guess that since the property owner was an electrician who rigged up just the  right amount of voltage to shock, but not injure (he even tested it on himself), the Katko principle would not apply. An electric jolt, like that from an electric fence, is not deadly force, and did not seriously injure the child. So he probably would not be found liable. Then again, if the jolt injured the child, he might be.

Here is the video of the incident