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Permit May Be Required For Public Photography in NYC 301

G4Cube passed us a link to a New York Times article about a troubling development in public photography rights. New York City is considering requiring a permit for photographers, film-makers, and even possibly tourists who want to shoot imagery in the Big Apple. "New rules being considered by the Mayor's Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting would require any group of two or more people who want to use a camera in a single public location for more than a half hour to get a city permit and insurance. The same requirements would apply to any group of five or more people who plan to use a tripod in a public location for more than 10 minutes, including the time it takes to set up the equipment. Julianne Cho, assistant commissioner of the film office, said the rules were not intended to apply to families on vacation or amateur filmmakers or photographers. Nevertheless, the New York Civil Liberties Union says the proposed rules, as strictly interpreted, could have that effect. The group also warns that the rules set the stage for selective and perhaps discriminatory enforcement by police."
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Permit May Be Required For Public Photography in NYC

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  • Absurd (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BWJones ( 18351 ) * on Saturday June 30, 2007 @03:25AM (#19697819) Homepage Journal
    Oh great. Just what we need are more incidents like this [] and this []. Who gets to define "amateur"? Or how about what is really going to happen is simply giving the police more latitude in harassing photographers who are operating from open, public spaces already paid for in taxes by the taxpayer? From this text Mr. Dunn suggested that the city deliberately kept the language vague, and that as a result police would have broad discretion in enforcing the rules. I'd say that it looks like it. Also, from the article who plan to use a tripod in a public location for more than 10 minutes, including the time it takes to set up the equipment. Why a tripod? Does that make for a professional? If so, I must be a triple professional, because I have three tripods. ;-) Seriously though, this is the sort of law that sounds like it was put together over a drinking game by a couple of high school students, but in reality it has been assembled by a group of mid level government bureaucrats who obviously have not thought very far down the road as to the possible implications, legal or otherwise. For instance, The draft rules say the office could take up to 30 days to issue a permit, but Ms. Cho said she expected that most would be issued within 24 hours. leading me to wonder: Will the film student, of which there are many in NYC have to now go and apply for a permit and a $1 million dollar insurance policy for every single class assignment? What about the news agencies who might have to report on breaking stories? Will they be breaking the law covering the news?

    This is simply absurd and as a photographer, I will *not* be traveling into NYC if this proposed policy becomes law.

  • One Sided Article (Score:5, Interesting)

    by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn&gmail,com> on Saturday June 30, 2007 @07:09AM (#19698471) Journal
    This article is pretty one sided (not that that is bad) so I'm wondering what happened or what is the cause of these new laws?

    Usually when you change the law, it's because something happened. I would like to know what failure the current laws have suffered and I didn't really find there to be a lot of comments from the New York City government on this issue, just civil liberties groups.

    So as far as I can guess, there are two possible reason. The first is the ole' terrorism card where we can't have people that might be terrorists casing targets and what not. The second possible reason is that it is becoming easier and easier to garner thousands of viewers (like the article mentions) via sites like YouTube by posting your work online. Is the city targeting these people the same way it targets major Hollywood film companies?

    I'm kind of disappointed this article didn't accurately reflect both sides of the issue. I can see several downsides to these laws but is there at least a reason for changing them in the first place? Not a lot of information here from NYC.

    The Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre & Broadcasting [] seems to be concerned primarily with fining large companies. The free permit you can apply for online states:

    The permit we issue to your production is free of charge, and provides access to public locations and street parking for essential production vehicles throughout 300 square miles of public settings in the city's five boroughs, including 27,000 acres of city parks.

    When your project is shooting at an exterior location which requires traffic control, or has a scene with prop firearms, weapons or actors in police uniforms, you must request that the NYPD Movie and TV Unit be assigned to your location. The police unit will assign its officers at no charge to you.

    All decisions about what is permitted are made by the Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre & Broadcasting, working in close consultation with the NYPD Movie & TV Unit, and other key city agencies. We have the experience and resources to facilitate your production requests.

    Filming in city parks, interiors of city buildings, bridges, subways or tunnels will require additional permissions from the controlling entities. Please contact our office to obtain specific contact information.
    Which seems fairly reasonable for one of the largest & most densely populated cities in the United States. With amatures having an easier means of publication, the laws could change to keep NYC's MOFTB informed of filming on a regular or extended basis.

    Now, I'm well aware of the abuse that police & law enforcement could use this for against citizens, tourists & people of certain ethnicities, but I think the article already adequately reflected the concerns.

    What was glossed over was the apparent good these laws would do:

    Mr. Dunn said most of the new rules were reasonable. Notably, someone using a hand-held video camera, as Mr. Sharma was doing, would no longer have to get a permit.
    So, am I to believe that there's a few laws that are questionable while other laws are going to protect people (as in Mr. Sharma's case) from being arrested? Sounds pretty reasonable to me.

    Still, it really causes one to wonder, what's the reason for the change in these laws?
  • Re:Absolutly Insane (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Threni ( 635302 ) on Saturday June 30, 2007 @07:15AM (#19698491)
    > Arrested for gazing upon a copyrighted building design. Come on...

    I was in the US a few years ago (2003, you say..vacation from the UK) and was taking pictures of the big black building in Pittsburgh which looks like it should be in a Batman film, when a fat guy in a uniform came out of it and told me I couldn't take pictures. Clearly he was wrong - all I had to do was to walk around to another part of the building where he couldn't see me (or couldn't waddle up to me fast enough to stop me) but it was a little unsettling as I didn't want to spend the next few hours talking to the police about how I wasn't a terrorist, or get deported.

    So I think this sort of law just formalizes harassment that I'm sure many other people have received for a while now.
  • Re:One Sided Article (Score:5, Interesting)

    by niceone ( 992278 ) * on Saturday June 30, 2007 @07:43AM (#19698591) Journal
    Still, it really causes one to wonder, what's the reason for the change in these laws?

    It is in the article (right at the end):

    In May 2005, Rakesh Sharma, an Indian documentary filmmaker, was using a hand-held video camera in Midtown Manhattan when he was detained for several hours and questioned by police.

    During his detention, Mr. Sharma was told he was required to have a permit to film on city property. According to a lawsuit, Mr. Sharma sought information about how permits were granted and who was required to have one but found there were no written guidelines. Nonetheless, the film office told him he was required to have a permit, but when he applied, the office refused to grant him one and would not give him a written explanation of its refusal.

    As part of a settlement reached in April, the film office agreed to establish written rules for issuing permits. Mr. Sharma could not be reached for comment yesterday.
  • What is the purpose? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by quentin_quayle ( 868719 ) <> on Saturday June 30, 2007 @07:45AM (#19698595)
    If it's to stop people blocking the sidewalk, doesn't the city already have adequate laws on that? They wouldn't have to refer to photography either.

    A more plausible explanation is driving a wedge between professional and amateur journalism. With the chilling effect, there will be less recording of police misconduct, for example, and many of the 9.11 videos would not have been made.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 30, 2007 @08:34AM (#19698767)

    and because this time round it's going to be done peacefully

    Have you read about ths allegedly foiled multiple car bomb plot [] in London? Designing a remotely detonatable explosive device with the power to kill dozens in a built-up area barely requires knowledge beyond UK A-level chemistry and electronics (well, assuming those exams haven't been dumbed down too much since I studied them!). It's not happening all the time because, bar a number countable on the fingers of one hand, people in the UK don't want to mass murder.

    So, when a car containing nails, petrol and a mobile phone is found emitting mysterious smoke, in a city which only sees a bombing every few years, it's just as likely to be a government keep-'em-fearing plant (or even workmen carrying around nails and petrol conveniently reinterpreted a la Menezes) as the work of some uncharacteristically incompetent Mercedes-driving terrorists.

    And for the non-UK reader, it happened a day after a new prime minister. Just what the guy needs to push ahead with the usual agenda of security>liberty...
  • Re:Next up... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MollyB ( 162595 ) * on Saturday June 30, 2007 @08:43AM (#19698803) Journal

    Next we'll require permits to for free speech in public areas [...]
    We already have so-called "free speech zones" -- fenced, policed areas in which nonviolent opposition to the gummint is permitted, generally placed where the object of protest (a person or group) never need confront detractors.

    As an ancient activist who's been tear-gassed numerous times, I am shocked beyond belief that we have let our civil freedoms wither to a mockery of what once was a great country. The 'free speech' zone used to extend from the Atlantic to the Pacific. (yeah, HI & AK, too)

    The post by eldavojohn above [] raises interesting points. How does a city accommodate citizens wishing to use the same sidewalk for protesting or passage?

  • by QuatermassX ( 808146 ) on Saturday June 30, 2007 @09:13AM (#19698923) Homepage

    As has already been mentioned, the purpose of these laws is to generate revenue for the city and keep the sidewalk / pavement clear. The article mentions that two or more people who linger in a spot more than 30 minutes are subject to the new rules.

    That doesn't sound terribly onerous - I recently took hundreds of photos in New York City [] and never once had a problem. I toted around an old Yashicamat 124G [] as well as a Hexar AF []. Every so often someone would strike up a conversation about that "cool old camera", but I photographed traffic cops, people in the street, quietly inside shops, throughout museums without a fuss. The cameras are both fairly low-key and quiet.

    I reckon if both my girlfriend and myself had lingered outside for more than 30 minutes and I was typically snapping photographs of strangers, THEN I would be in violation - but I think she'd smack me upside the head before the 30-minute mark would pass.

    Now the issue about unflattering photographs of city police - that sounds more like something that requires clarification. It should never be illegal to expose abuse of power or malfeasance. And citizen journalism has provided vivid pictures of breaking news before the big news organisations can scramble their photographers.

    There are rumblings of similar laws been enacted in Britain ... which always strikes me as a wicked irony when you consider the vast amount of CCTV cameras there are.

  • Re:Absurd (Score:3, Interesting)

    by EtoilePB ( 1087031 ) on Saturday June 30, 2007 @10:03AM (#19699157)
    I live in NYC now; before that, I lived in Boston.

    After 2001, Boston made regulations about photography in certain places. Namely, you're not allowed to take pictures of anything T (public transit). Not the trains, not the buses,not the employees, nothing. One day at Park Street I saw a Japanese woman (the quintessential stereotypical tourist) who clearly didn't speak a word of English get carted away by two beefy officers because she was taking pictures of her family standing next to a Green Line train. Yes, they'd given her three verbal warnings over the intercom, but as she didn't speak English and no-one nearby spoke Japanese, she had no idea what was going on.

    New York is not the only city pushed into absurdity by "security" concerns, particularly when those concerns overlap with the quest to rake in more cash from every source possible. The majority of tourists in NYC, mind, will never run in to these problems, because I'm sure the guards and cops at the key tourist locations -- Times Square, Empire State Building, etc etc etc -- have been taught or told what's "acceptable" photography. Stories like yours about Fulton Ferry Park are what we'd see more of.
  • Re:Absurd (Score:5, Interesting)

    by nbauman ( 624611 ) on Saturday June 30, 2007 @10:35AM (#19699331) Homepage Journal

    I was immediately stopped by a park employee who wanted to know what I was doing with my video camera. After explaining what we wanted to do, he told us we would need a permit, which he conveniently had nearby.
    He then told me I could either pay for the permits then, or leave the park immediately (under threat that if I didn't, he'd call the cops!).
    You could pay him for the permit? Right then and there? That's ridiculous. The permits are issued by the Mayor's Office for Film, Theater and Broadcasting (which is only open Monday-Friday 8:30am-4:30pm). He was trying to shake you down.

    As one of the other posters said, I would have called him on it, and let him call the cops. (In NYC, you have to be confrontational just to get through the day.)

    I would have asked him for his identification -- and taken his picture. Turn on the camera and ask him to tell you on camera that you need a permit and he can sell you one right there.

    I think that would be a good video. Go around the City with a camera, and record park department employees and cops when they come up to you telling you that you need a permit, and record the idiotic conversations that ensue. "I'm an amateur. What makes you say I'm a professional?" etc.

    Go to the Mayor's Office for Film, Theater and Broadcasting and ask them, on camera, how they tell the difference between an amateur and a professional.

    Tell them at the Mayor's Office those stories you've just told us, and ask them how you're supposed to get a permit just to take a video of some friends.
  • by eck011219 ( 851729 ) on Saturday June 30, 2007 @11:04AM (#19699497)
    So I can't set up a tripod and take a long-exposure shot at night, but Google's CreepyTruck can drive around and take pictures for Google Street View? They're not in any one spot for more than a few seconds. Lordy.

    Here in Chicago, we have a park right downtown called Millennium Park []. It was completed, ironically enough, in 2004. In it is something most Chicagoans call "The Bean" -- it's actually called Cloud Gate [], and it's a big reflective kidney-bean-shaped thing that reflects everything around it. The piece was underwritten by some big corporation (Ameritech, maybe?). In the past couple of years, the artist has gotten all pissy about people taking pictures of it, because it's a copyrighted work. The sponsor got involved, leaned on the city, and now the police will often stop people from taking pictures of it without written permission from the artist. (As you might imagine, this also spawned a huge number of posted photographs of it all over the Web.)

    In other words, they can plant a bigass bean in the middle of my city, but if I take a picture of it, I'm in the wrong. And while I stand there griping about it, Google can drive by and take my picture. My personal feeling is that the architects of the buildings surrounding the bean should go after the artist for reflecting images of their buildings without written permission. But that just increases the number of people being chowderheads, I suppose.
  • Re:Absurd (Score:2, Interesting)

    by SvnLyrBrto ( 62138 ) on Saturday June 30, 2007 @03:16PM (#19701055)
    Here's a trick though...

    Would you be able to tell the difference, from superficial looks, between a Persian, an Arab, a Kurd and a Turk? I'm aware that they are all separate cultural and ethnic groups, with separate histories and sometimes a lot of mutual animosity. And I'm sure the GP is aware of all that too. But I'm kind of ashamed to say, that I can't easily spot the differences visually, unless their clothing or something else gives me clues. If they're all in generic western attire, all I get is that they look vaguely "middle eastern".

    Maybe that's just a bad mental block on my part though. For example, I know a whole lot more about China, Japan, and Korea, and the cultural differences between them, than I do about anything middle eastern. Heck, I live in San Francisco and have plenty of friends of various Asian persuasions. But if alllooksame [] were a school quiz; I'd get a solid F. Again, not proud, and not intentional; but maybe I'm just dense at picking up some of those more subtle visual clues.


  • by Fulcrum of Evil ( 560260 ) on Saturday June 30, 2007 @05:09PM (#19701693)

    Did you never try to fly on a plane with nail clippers prior to 9-11?

    Yeah, so what? Before the current madness, my toiletries bag was just fine as carryon. Now, the toothpaste and shampoo is banned. Clippers are still fine, as well as a 6" screwdriver (which can't be used as a weapon, no sir)

    The airline restrictions passed in response to 9-11 were that you couldn't bring box-cutters on the plane, which is considered perfectly reasonable by most people.

    They also made airline security federal and spent a couple years working out what to hassle people over. They still aren't consistent, and the security line is godawful. It's also the sort of thing you can attack with a stick of dynamite and some ball bearings, so it's counterproductive. The only reasonable thing they did was the locking cockpit doors.

    But if you would rather have 9000 people die each year just so you can pack your pair of box cutters in your carry on, well I guess we have vastly different belief systems.

    Yeah, I recognize that freedom isn't safe, and neither is what we've got now. I don't recall bomb scares over lite brites and free speech zones before 9/11.

    Oh, and 9000 isn't that much - more people suicide with handguns every year. 5000 kids are killed by water. 44000 people die while driving. It's really not that many people, especially when you consider that this sort of event is actually exceedingly rare.

  • The Real Reason? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by neuromancer23 ( 1122449 ) on Saturday June 30, 2007 @05:40PM (#19701823)
    Whatever the real reason for doing this is I am confident that it has absolutely nothing to do with the dozens of independent documentaries, the tens of thousands of independent video posts, or millions of photographs posted to independent blogs pointing out the holes in the official 9/11 story.

    "Of course. That would be a Conspiracy Theory and all conspiracy theories are crazy. Of course..." - Robert Anton Wilson
  • Re:Absurd (Score:3, Interesting)

    by identity0 ( 77976 ) on Sunday July 01, 2007 @01:02AM (#19703919) Journal
    Heh. I'm east Asian, and I have been mistaken for Mexican, and have friends mistaken for Native American. I think the US categorization scheme works something like, White/Black/Mexican/Other.

"The eleventh commandment was `Thou Shalt Compute' or `Thou Shalt Not Compute' -- I forget which." -- Epigrams in Programming, ACM SIGPLAN Sept. 1982