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.

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It’s photo week at the Supreme Court of the United States

7 10 2009

071107-scotus-awc-031Photographers should be paying attention to the Supreme Court this week…

Tasini continued…

Oral arguments were heard today in Reed Elsevier v. Muchnick. This case is connected to our old friend Tasini v. New York Times, which some say started the whole rights grabbing trends of the modern day newspaper contract. While this case won’t really have as much of an impact on photographers, it is interesting because of the connection. It involves the authority of the court over copyright cases and settlements when the rights holders haven’t registered their copyright. It also involves an enormous class of journalists. Here is a summary of the oral arguments (note to self: research why people keep hyphenating “freelancer”) and here is a transcript of the oral arguments.

If the court rules that a federal court cannot approve a settlement involving rights-holders who have not registered, it seems inevitable that this will affect the Google Books settlement.

The Dog-fight Video Case

In another case that is important to photographers, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday about whether or not a law that bans visual depictions of cruelty to animals is a violation of the First Amendment.

U.S. v. Stevens is the first case ever to be prosecuted under a federal law that bans any “depiction of animal cruelty” if such cruelty is illegal in the place where the depiction is created, sold or possessed.

It has been many years since the Court found that the government interest in preventing child pornography was so great that it overrode any First Amendment rights of the child pornographer, a rather appropriate finding. By making the expressive act illegal, the motive for the abuse is diminished. Child pornography involves abuse of a child and the photography itself is abusive. The law is clearly narrowly tailored and serves a compelling government interest.

This law is not so well orchestrated. For example, the defedant, Stevens, was not involved in any animal abuse, he merely edited together footage that he obtained from others.

While well intentioned (many attacks on the First Amendment are), I think this law is certain to be struck down. First of all, I don’t believe that our government truly has a compelling interest in preventing cruelty to animals. If it did, much of the way our nation produces meat would be illegal (yes, I am a vegetarian). Second, the law is in no way narrowly tailored. There are many possibilities of perfectly legal activity that could get a person caught up in this law. And there are loopholes that would make illegal a video or photograph of something that was legal where it occurred (say bullfighting in Spain). I once photographed a ritual sacrifice of a sea turtle in a Fijian village. It was gross. It was brutal and cruel. But it was important to document. Those pictures could get me in trouble with the feds under this law.

If you don’t believe me, just take a look at the list of hypotheticals the justices posed to the attorneys in this case. The article in the New York Times says it all.

The transcript, full of hypotheticals, is here.

An article about the NPPA signing an amicus brief urging the court to hold the law unconstitutional is here.

One of my favorite things to listen to is a Nina Totenberg report on Supreme Court arguments. Her review of this weeks oral arguments is available here.





Notes from the Lame Duck Session

11 12 2008

A couple of interesting things happened in Lameducklandia today.

– Approval of the auto bailout. Booo.

– Condemnation of the Mumbai attacks. Duh. Would people have thought otherwise?

– Extension of the broadcast authority timeline (related to the digital tv transition)

– S.J. Resolution 46 ensures that the Secretary of State (Hillary Clinton) will have the compensation that was in effect on Jan. 1, 2007. I assume this is an attempt to get around the constitutional problem of having her serve in an appointed position for which she voted on a raise. I’m not sure that it solves the problem, technically, but it does address the spirit of the problem

“No Senator or Representative shall, during the Time for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil Office under the Authority of the United States which shall have been created, or the Emoluments whereof shall have been increased during such time…” (emoluments being salary/ compensation)

071107-constitution-awc-075This is not the first time this conflict has come up. And it has been ignored before, or rather, dealt with by reverting to the pre-raise salary.

But the fact of the matter is that the Constitution doesn’t have the words, “unless they do x,y,z….”

The congress may be trying to solve this problem by legislating, however you can’t leglislate your way out of the constitution.

But I told my husband that I had one solution… that it doesn’t apply to Clinton because the constitutional clause clearly says, “he”. I wonder if that would work. ;o)

A post on the Daily Kos explains the whole dilemma very well.

Ironically, it is only a $4,000 raise, surely chump change for someone like Clinton, especially considering that she had her eyes on a different job.

And then again, it is only the Constitution. Seems like the judiciary is the only branch of the government that is even pretending to follow it these days anyhow (and frankly even they abandon it when it suits them).





Photography in National Parks- a local look

7 07 2008

A senior portrait at San Jose Mission in San Antonio, Texas. Photo by Alicia Wagner Calzada

With my attention focused on the national discussion of photography permits in the national parks, I thought I would check on my local national park. I have done photo shoots at the San Jose Mission National Park many times, for both editorial shoots and for individual clients.

What I found was proof that there are major contradictions out there and a definite need for the national system to give more specific recommendations.

Here is what is listed at the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park website (new policy effective in 2006). Instead of having one straightforward policy, there are four different policies stated that contradict each other and might each be interpreted by a park ranger in their own way:

First, on the FAQs page:

“I want to use the missions as backdrops in my family and wedding photographs. What do I need to know?

  • “If you or a family member is taking pictures, there is nothing special you need to do… If you are using a professional or commercial photographer, you or the photographer must apply for a permit at least 14 days in advance. There will be a fee involved.”

Ummm…. Aaack!!!

But then, clicking on the more information button and the “commercial filming” link:

“Commercial filming includes capturing a moving image on film and video as well as sound recordings.

Still photographers require a permit when

  1. the activity takes place at location(s) where or when members of the public are generally not allowed; or
  2. the activity uses model(s), sets(s), or prop(s) that are not a part of the location’s natural or cultural resources or administrative facilities; or
  3. Park would incur additional administrative costs to monitor the activity.”

(this is more in line with what we at the NPPA have been saying. Any permit should be based on the level of interference, not what the photographer will later do with the image.)

But if you read further on down the same page, you see this lovely chart …..

Commercial Filming/Videos Still Photography
1 – 2 people, camera & tripod only $0/day
1 – 10 people $150/day 1 – 10 people $50/day
11 – 30 people $250/day 11 – 30 people $150/day
31 – 49 people $500/day Over 30 people $250/day
Over 50 people $750/day

If I was a ranger, I would see the column on the right and assume that a photographer with 1-10 people was responsible for paying $50.

Finally, further down the page, the link to Appendix 13,exh.1: still photography pulls up a document that says:
“The NPS will not require a permit for photographers, commercial or non-commercial, to go anywhere or to do anything that members of the public are generally allowed to go or do without a permit. This is true whether or not the photographer uses tripods, strobe lights, or interchangeable lenses. Coverage of breaking news never requires a permit but is subject to restrictions and conditions necessary to protect park resources, public health and safety, and to prevent impairment or derogation of park resources, values or purposes.”

“A permit is required if the superintendent determines there is a potential of a photography project’s harming or having an impact on the park’s natural, cultural or recreational resources, or creating unacceptable health or safety risks, or disrupting visitor use and enjoyment. A permit is also required pursuant to 36 CFR 5.5(b) for persons taking photographs of vehicles, other articles of commerce or involves the use of a model, set or prop for the purpose of commercial advertising.”

This is a fine policy. I just wish I got there sooner.

-A