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.





The State of the Union Live Web Feed- Are you listening Seventh Circuit?

25 01 2011

The New York Times is broadcasting the State of the Union on the front page of its website as I write this. It is a lovely thing to watch, and it is a clear example of how newspapers have changed- in what they can do and how they can deliver the news.

If the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) was in charge of the State of the Union, the New York Times would not be web-casting the State of the Union, in it’s entirety. Instead they would be limited to two minutes worth of highlight footage, with no live blogging allowed. Sound absurd? That is exactly what WIAA claims it can do with its high school championship games. A federal judge agreed with them and the case is now under appeal. WIAA is a state actor, and if you say that WIAA can restrict coverage of its events, where is the line drawn?





Can the Media be Restricted from Broadcasting High School Athletic Events in their entirety: Oral Arguments in the Seventh Circuit.

16 01 2011

There were oral arguments on Friday in the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in the WIAA v. Gannett case. You may remember this case originated a couple of years ago when a Wisconsin newspaper webcast several high school football tournaments against the wishes of the tournament organizers, the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association. The WIAA sued, initially in state court, seeking a declaration that it had broad rights to own the descriptions and depictions of the games. The case was moved to federal court and the complaint was changed to involve fewer claims.

Currently the primary issue involves whether or not the WIAA can contract with a private company to exclusively license the rights to broadcast the entire game (beyond just highlights). WIAA is a “state actor” which means that in effect, they are like the government, and they cannot restrict speech any more than a city or state government could.

A panel of three judges began by peppering the newspaper’s attorney, Robert Dreps, with hypothetical questions about whether or not a school could restrict coverage related to school plays, or operas, which have copyright protections. Dreps explained how previous courts have ruled that there are no copyright protections in athletic competitions. The judges also raised questions about whether or not the case should ever have been moved to federal court. At one point one of the judges compared the broadcast of the games to a broadcast of the oral arguments themselves. In addition, the issue of whether a ruling in favor of the newspapers would affect broadcast agreements in college basketball games was raised.

These issues are not simple, and because of that, the debate is fascinating. If you have time, it lasts less than an hour. At play are cross-section of many issues, including First Amendment, copyright, and internet law. News organizations all over the country should be paying attention to this case and its outcome.

A recording of the oral arguments can be heard here and there is an article about the original case here.

(editor’s note: this is a cross-post with my NPPA Advocacy blog)





Blotter: The Right to Take Pictures

26 07 2010

Note: this is a cross-post with my NPPA Blog.

The right to take pictures has been in the news so much lately that I feel I need to present it in the form of a police blotter. Please send tips to me at advocacy@nppa.org.

  • The Washington Post has an interesting piece on ten incidents where photographers were stopped for taking pictures, detained, or told that photography was not allowed in a public place. It accompanies a story talking about the problem that NPPA has been fighting for years- police interfering with the right to make photographs in public.
  • In other “Right to take pictures” news, a congressman from New York, U.S. Rep. Edolphus “Ed” Towns (NY-10) has submitted a resolution to the House of Representatives, “recognizing that the videotaping or photographing of police engaged in potentially abusive activity in a public place should not be prosecuted in State or Federal courts.” A “resolution” does not have the force of law that a statute does, but it will be nice if in fact Towns can get the House to support the concept that photography of police is protected constitutional activity.
  • File this under “save the best for last”: Earlier this month, a jury awarded camerawoman Patricia Ballaz $1.732 million in damages in her lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles after she was battered by members of the LAPD during an immigration rights rally in 2007. Her injuries were so severe that she was unable to return to her job.




  • The photo editors of social networking

    19 07 2010

    There is an interesting story in today’s New York Times about a growing profession of screeners whose job it is to look at social networking images and flag them for inappropriate content- pornography, violence and other disturbing images. Some of the work is outsourced, but some is done in-house, depending on the company needing the review.

    Like journalists, many of these individuals suffer psychological consequences from constantly seeing disturbing images. Oddly the article doesn’t mention anything about how they handle referring illegal activity to law enforcement. But it is fascinating to realize that in a world where content is provided by the masses, there is still a level of gate-keeping.





    Elegant Argument for Cameras in the Supreme Court

    2 07 2010

    This week, the broadcast of the Elena Kagan confirmation hearings provided a stark contrast to the dramatic events actually inside the Court on Monday. What came of it is one of the most elegant arguments for cameras in the Supreme Court that I have ever read.

    Check out the article here.





    Arrest in leak of the video of the killing of photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen

    11 06 2010

    -Note: this is a cross-post with my NPPA Advocacy Blog. Please visit that as well.-
    Several months ago, Wikileaks released a horrifying video of the 2007 killing by the U.S. Military, of Reuters photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen and his and driver, Saeed Chmagh, 40.

    Earlier this month, the federal government arrested an army intelligence analyst, 22-year-old Bradley Manning, who is suspected of leaking the video. Adding to the drama are reports that Manning also leaked hundreds of thousands of other classified documents, and cables to Wikileaks, and now the Pentagon is searching for the founder of Wikileaks, Julian Assange, fearing that the organization is preparing to release the information. Interestingly, Assange is scheduled to speak on a panel discussion at the Invetigative Reporters and Editors conference this afternoon, the epicenter of journalism that relies on confidential sourcing.

    An article in today’s New York Times outlines how the government is taking a hard stand against leaks.

    In the midst of a national crisis in the Gulf of Mexico, and corporate misinformation campaigns by BP which are being supported by the federal government’s cooperation in blocking access, all of this is important to photojournalists.

    (UPDATE: Assange has canceled his appearance at the IRE conference, according to The Daily Beast)