Photojournalism Ethics in the Bin Laden Story

4 05 2011

Great piece on about ethical issues related to photography this week as the bin Laden story evolves. Big decisions about gruesome images and staged photo ops.

Read about it here:


Ban on Photography of Animal Cruelty Struck Down

20 04 2010

Two important pieces of legal news for photographers today.

U.S. v. Stevens

The Supreme Court today overturned a law that made photographs of animal cruelty illegal. The defendant, Stevens, was the first to be convicted under a federal law that banned the creation, sale, or possession of a depiction of animal cruelty.

Much like child pornography laws, the law was designed to target the market for videos of animal cruelty, because it is often difficult to determine the person who committed the underlying cruel acts. Designed to allow law enforcement to go after “crush” videos, which appeal to a disgusting fetish for the crushing of small animals, the law in this case was applied to a video of dog fights.

The problem with the law, as evidenced by the fact that it was used against a dog fight video (not that I am any fan of that either), was that it was way too broad, and could potentially impact journalists, as well as others exercising their First Amendment rights. There was an exception for any depiction that has “serious journalistic value,” but the term “serious” excluded too much, and there was no exception for entertainment. The NPPA joined the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in filing an amicus brief.

The Supreme Court ruled that the law explicitly punished expression based on the content. Although speech restrictions based on content are allowed in a few exceptions, namely, obscenity, defamation, fraud, incitement, and speech integral to criminal conduct, and some specific narrowly tailored areas, this was not one of them, and the court declined to create a new category.

In attempting to bring videos of animal cruelty to the level of child pornography, the government proposed the following test for adding new areas of exception to the First Amendment : “Whether a given category of speech enjoys First Amendment protection depends upon a categorical balancing of the value of the speech against its societal costs.”

Justice Roberts responded, “As a free-floating test for First Amendment coverage, that sentence is startling and dangerous.” The court declined to carve out a new exception to the First Amendment for animal cruelty.

Finding that the law was far too much of a limitation on the First Amendment, Roberts said, “We read §48 to create a criminal prohibition of alarming breadth.”

There are some great lines in the opinion, including, “We would not uphold an unconstitutional statute merely because the Government promised to use it responsibly.”

Animal rights fans, take heart. The court did “not decide whether a statute limited to crush videos or other depictions of extreme animal cruelty would be constitutional. We hold only that §48 is not so limited but is instead substantially overbroad, and therefore invalid under the First Amendment.”

You can read the entire opinion, and the dissent, here. There is also a good analysis of the ruling on the SCOTUS blog.

Ken Light v. Current TV

Also important for photographers is the ongoing case of Ken Light, a San Francisco photographer who took Current TV to small claims court for “unfair competition,” after they violated his copyright. Light originally won the case, but Current TV appealed it and the court threw the case out. The reason- it was basically a copyright violation and small claims courts do not have jurisdiction over copyright, only federal court does.

I am aware of some cases where a copyright violation was successfully taken to small claims court as a breach of contract or failure to pay an invoice, but it is always a risk as the federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction over copyright claims.

There is a wonderful story about the case, and the legal history of “in-line linking” on the NPPA website. I recommend it.

UPDATE: The New York Times calls the ruling a “major and muscular First Amendment ruling

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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Covering the Conventions? — Write this down

20 08 2008

If you are covering the conventions, you should know about a wonderful resource that the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press has every convention cycle: 24-hour convention legal hotline for journalists. According to their website, the RCFP has provided this service for every convention cycle for the last 36 years.

Credentialed journalists who face detention and arrest can call the hotline for legal help. There are different numbers for Republican and Democratic Conventions, but both numbers, and an informative flier that definitely should be printed out and brought to the convention is at this link:

The flier is jam-packed with useful notes. Please print it out and bring it with you. Read it on the plane. It has great insight into the arrest procedures, bonding, etc.

Why all the fuss about journalists and arrests at conventions? You can read this story about journalists arrested in the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City.

Hopefully we won’t see a repeat of that mess. But whether you are credentialed media, traditional, student, freelance, blogger, be aware of the potential for problems and be prepared with a way to deal with it. Above all, remain calm and professional- annoyed cops often go overboard and being legally right doesn’t matter much if you miss the story because you are stewing in a jail cell.

Here are the hotline numbers:

  • Democratic Convention Hotline: (303) 376-2404
  • Republican Convention Hotline: (651) 238-1884

More info from the flier:

  • The MEDIA HOTLINE should not be used for disputes over credentials or problems unrelated to your news coverage of the convention. You may call the Reporters Committee’s regular hotline, (800) 336-4243, if you have other credentialing or access issues.
  • Non-credentialed reporters and protestors who are arrested may not use this MEDIA HOTLINE, but may instead contact the People’s Law Project of the National Lawyers Guild at (303) 830-0277.
  • Questions about civil rights and liberties issues will be fielded by the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado at (303) 777-5482, ext. 118.

Charges dropped against photographer

20 06 2008

In another “bully the photographer” case…

A good friend of mine, Tony Overman (a respected and experienced journalists who has testified before Congress on behalf of the profession), was arrested while covering a fire scene recently. Basically, he got into a verbal argument with a police officer. The officer got in his face, their noses touched. The officer accused Tony of assaulting him, pushed him to the ground, arrested him, and twisted his arm. Tony’s wrist was sprained. He was charged with assaulting a police officer- basically for talking back.

Fortunately, Tony knew exactly how to handle this, from years of advocating for other photographers. He has a media lawyer on his speed dial.

The evidence in this case spoke for itself. None of the other police officers or firefighters on the scene saw the alleged assault. The officer also had no reported injuries, despite his claim that Tony hit him in the nose with his forehead.

The charges were dropped yesterday.

I have been thinking about something lately. I have been wondering if there is any other profession where the professionals risk arrest for doing their job every day. I can’t think of one, other than journalist (and maybe drug dealer)

I am relieved that the charges against Tony were dropped, but in general, I am so sad about this reality…

• Story in The Olympian •• NPPA Story •

NPPA- Convergence, Board Meeting, Musings

1 06 2008

Just finished with the NPPA Board meeting, which was held in conjunction with the Multimedia Immersion Workshop and the Convergence Workshop. So much to say, but I will try to narrow it down to a few comments.

– First, check out this great story that Billy found and shot during the immersion. I am so lucky that I get to share my life with this guy and be inspired by him.

– I moderated a panel during the Multimedia Immersion Workshop on ethics and law in multimedia. Some interesting issues discussed included not just the legality of using music in multimedia presentations but also the general effects on the piece- does it detract? does it add? does it give the piece a mood that it didn’t really have? One of the most interesting points mentioned was how a popular music piece might be added to evoke a certain emotion, but it could actually have a different effect because the same piece of music means different things to different people.

– The NPPA Board budgeted to continue funding travel for the advocacy committee which will enable us to continue our work meeting with capitol hill staff and working with Congress when appropriate. Major issues that we are working on for the year ahead include Federal Shield Law, Orphan Works, Conflicts with High School Sports Associations as well as Pro sports associations, and proposed changes to the permit requirements for photographers at national parks. And of course, continued individual needs.

– As my term as “immediate past president” expired on Friday, I am no longer on the NPPA board. I was a little sad, as it has meant so much to me, but I am thrilled at the new leaders emerging and I am excited about the future for them. I am amazed at all that I have been able to accomplish and all that I have learned about myself. It is really true that when volunteering, you get what you give. Congrats to new President Bob Carey, Vice President Sean Elliot, Secretary Denise McGill, and EC Board Rep Tom Costello. Tony Overman becomes Immediate Past President and Jim Sulley remains as the treasurer. It has been a few years since there was such a large change on the EC- but these are good folks who will do wonderful things.

– Would you believe that during the Canon Shoot-Out, one of the NPPA Board members was harassed by Louisville police for taking pictures on a public street! A tourist destination (4th Street) no less. Of course you would believe it. It has happened to all of us. But it was kind of cool to be able to respond so quickly and in person. NPPA Attorney Mickey Osterreicher spoke to the local PIO and the manager of 4th street and both came to their senses. There was some talk of a mass photo party on 4th street but since the police backed down, it lost steam. For a while, Tony Overman was jokingly planning a WTO type protest and I was to be “the wailer.” Mickey is an amazing gift to the NPPA.

– Mickey Osterreicher also led a workshop session on photography and the law, which was well attended. It is clear that photographers are thinking more and more about legal issues. Hot topics discussed included trespass, especially in malls and private homes, privacy issues, confrontations with police and how to handle it and copyright. Some attendees asked if the NPPA was considering increasing its presence on capitol hill to include professional lobbyists, etc. NPPA doesn’t have the budget to do that this year, but we are accomplishing quite a bit. We are participating in several national legislative issues and continue to reach out in various ways and be as much a part of issues as we can. Considering how our advocacy efforts are growing at such an exponential rate, I wouldn’t be surprised if we achieve that dream several years down the road. It just requires support of the industry.

– We were invited to a reception at the law offices of Paul Paletti, Jr., a very cool lawyer here in Louisville who has transformed his office into a photo gallery with work from some of the most amazing photographers, both contemporary, like James Nachtwey and legendary, like Edward Weston and Alfred Stieglitz. A very cool gallery and a perfect vision of what I would like to do with a future practice.

As you can see, it has been quite a week. I will try to break down some of these topics and address them in future posts.