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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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)





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.





Media companies saying “No Thanks,” for the hand-outs

12 04 2010

One of the dangers of “official” photographers, is when they are used as a replacement for admitting the media.

The media doesn’t like this, but for years, there was not much in the way of response.

Things are changing. More and more, I have seen media companies refusing to run “handout” photos when they are offered as a replacement for media access.

Recently, the media was kept out of a meeting between President Obama and the Dalai Lama. Response was strong.

The Associated Press declined to distribute the handout photo, instead offering the following Photo Advisory:

AP Photo Advisory: The AP will not be distributing an official White House photograph of today’s meeting between President Obama and the Dalai Lama. The AP declines to accept or use handout photos when we feel access would have been possible by the media, either as a group or through a pool photo arrangement.

The New York Times and the Washington Post also stated that they would not publish the hand-out photos.

The impact of a media blackout used to be more significant. But since the Obama White House has it’s own photo distribution system (via a Flikr Photostream) it doesn’t have to rely on the AP, or even newspapers, to get its images across.

There are several good sources for this story:

Associate Press release about the Dalai Lama and Obama meeting.

Washington Times article about the Dalai Lama handout photo.

Columbia Journalism Review article on the handouts trend.

White House Flikr photo stream.

White House News Photographers Association position on handout photos.





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





Who owns video feed of Congress- You Do!

29 11 2009

So, I am studying for finals, which means my mind often goes on short stream-of-consciousness vacations and sometimes leads to eureka moments. But usually, it just leads to semi-eureka moments. Like this one.

I have been researching the efforts to restrict coverage of high school sports by the state associations (state actors). If you take their argument to the extreme you would be accepting the notion that a city council could have an “official” photographer or videographer, and restrict other media in the manner and amount that the media broadcasts what it covers. That would be absurd, right?

Which made me think- what about C-SPAN? I have been to Congress, and there are not gaggles of live television crews there. Is the high school sports association just following the C-SPAN model? The short answer is no.

C-SPAN broadcasts the video feed of Congress, but they do not own it or assert any rights over it. The U.S. government produces the feed of Congress (which is somewhat problematic- but a different argument), and since there is no copyright in material produced by the federal government, the video feed is public domain. Neither CNN or anyone else has to pay a licensing fee to Congress, or to C-SPAN to use or broadcast the video.

To read about the video from Congress, C-SPAN and copyright, check this link.