Want to take pictures in New York? Get a permit

Expect this law to be abused and unfairly targeted towards certain ethic minorities. The fact that the city deliberately kept the language vague means that many amateur photographers will be caught by this legislation.

This crackdown on on photographers started unofficially without much thought after 9/11 in an attempt to keep terrorists from being able to photograph sensitive locations. Now it will become official.

Preventing photography is an impossible task as cameras keep getting smaller, and more common; any brain-dead terrorist could easily manage to photograph sensitive information and these new rules will not change that. Authorities should assume that any site visible from public locations will be photographed, and no laws will be able to change that.

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.

“These rules will apply to a huge range of casual photography and filming, including tourists taking snapshots and people making short videos for YouTube,” said Christopher Dunn, the group’s associate legal director.

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

Mr. Dunn said that the civil liberties union asked repeatedly for such a distinction [between amateur and professional] in negotiations on the rules but that city officials refused, ostensibly to avoid creating loopholes that could be exploited by professional filmmakers and photographers.

13 thoughts on “Want to take pictures in New York? Get a permit

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  1. New York has been very anti-photography especially since 9/11. I expect that now that these permits (which make absolutely no distinction between amateur and professional) things will only get worse. Police already occasionally demand that people get permits because their cameras look too ‘professional’, or they are photographing sensitive things like bridges or buildings. If this were an isolated occurrence then I would agree that the new rules are not a huge deal (although making the distinction between amateur and professional would make them MUCH better), but it is part of a trend since 9/11 that has seen photographers ability to take pictures severely limited and harassed.

  2. And how would you distinguish between amateur and professional if you were a police officer? Does it not make more sense to focus on an activity like 5 people setting up a tripod for twenty minutes on a busy sidewalk

  3. The only difference between amateur and professional (according to insurance companies at least) is that amateurs don’t make a living with their photography, many times the equipment is the same so looking for this activity would snare many amateurs, it just wont work. In fact why bother to make the distinction at all?

    If your photography/film production requires a disruption of some sort (street closures or crowd control) then a permit is in order, but only for the disruption not for the photography/filming

  4. Dan,

    Steve is right you are barking up the wrong tree. This has nothing to do with freedom of press or speech. That is clear if you read the law.

    As for the rest of your assertion that this rule is “part of a trend since 9/11 that has seen photographers ability to take pictures severely limited and harassed,” all I can say is you had better provide better support than what you’ve given us so far (that is to say, none). I live in NYC, and what you assert is total, complete, and utter baloney. It is garbage of the highest kind and an insult to the city.

    Stop trying to paint the US as some growing fascist menace, some inchoate totalitarian society, some new … Cuba.

  5. I guess the examples I provided in the post weren’t enough for you; thats OK I have several more.

    NPR did a story on this issue:

    Photographers across the country have complained of getting harassed by law enforcement officials citing security concerns since the September 11 terrorist attacks.

    JPG Magazine devoted an entire magazine issue to this:

    There’s another example every day. An overactive security guard harassing a photographer on a public sidewalk. Cops intimidating people with cameras. Photography bans in subways. In a post 9/11 age of paranoia and suspicion, public photography is increasingly seen as threatening, or mistaken as criminal. And we here at JPG are sick of it.

    So we devoted issue 5 to this important topic. The theme, “Photography is Not a Crime,” is a rallying cry. It’s meant to remind everyone that amateur photographers are the documentarians of real life. We capture our world to help us understand it. We are not a threat.

    Photographer Thomas Hawk has documented several incidents of being harassed for taking pictures.

    Photojournalist Carlos Miller (who was arrested for taking pictures) has set up a blog covering this issue, including the recent arrest by the NYPD of a photographer taking pictures on a public sidewalk, and a Pennsylvania man charged with felony for filming police.

    It has become such an issue that Lawyer Bert Krages’ Photographer’s rights card has been downloaded millions of times.

    And these are just a few examples of the growing trend to ban, or restrict people right to photograph public places.

  6. And if you read the law it’s pretty clear that’s what the point is… so that they’ll know of potential disruptions.

  7. This section is particularly bad, and is bound to snare many potential amateurs.

    Section B
    Subsection ii
    Filming, photography, production, television or radio remotes occurring on City property, as described in subdivision (a) of this section, involving an interaction among two or more people at a single site for thirty or more minutes, including all set-up and breakdown time in connection with such activities;

    30 minutes at a particular site is not that much, especially of there is equipment that needs setting up (like a macro set up or a view camera)

  8. Well, Dan, I suggest you stay away from the fascistic US, but, if you’re forced to come, don’t bring your camera. Meanwhile, I’ll be sure not to utter any politically incorrect things when I’m up in Canada, for fear of being brought up on charges with the local Human Rights Commission: http://www.cbc.ca/canada/calgary/story/2005/03/31/ca-human-rights-bishop20050331.html

    “Bishop Fred Henry is refusing to take back comments he made comparing homosexuality to prostitution and adultery, after two people lodged human rights complaints against him.”

    Canadian fascism can land you in jail. The much milder US version only gets dirty hippies harassed by overeager security guards. The horror.

  9. Nowhere in that article does it mention jail time for The Bishop:

    Mary Riddle, director of the Alberta Human Rights Commission, says she can’t discuss specific complaints, but that an attempt will be made to resolve it through conciliation.

    though it is important to realize that hate/discriminatory speech is less protected in Canada than in the US.

    I wont stay away from the US, and when i go ill make sure to bring my camera (I never travel without it). Just because I criticize the US does not mean I hate the US, those are two very different things.

  10. “[I]t is important to realize that hate/discriminatory speech is less protected in Canada than in the US.”

    Fair enough, though there is no need for any qualifier of the word “speech” with “hate” or discriminatory. These words are used to make speech politically incorrect and, often, thereby illegal. Speech is speech, whether you like it or not. My saying “homosexuality is like prostitution” should be absolutely protected.

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