Spending More Than 5 Min at a Location Can Earn Photogs Jail Time in D.C.

Update: Apparently this isn’t something ordinary photographers need to worry about. See below.

The Washington Post has published a list of 160 misdemeanor offenses that can land you in jail in Washington D.C. While most are quite reasonable (e.g. “Sale of Cigarettes to a Minor” or “Unlicensed Driving Instructor”), there is one that is troubling. Under the category “Photographer Violations” is the entry:

Photographer – More than 5 minutes at location

The entry is quite vague and, as Carlos Miller points out, leaves a lot of room for police officer interpretation.

Update: The Washington Post has written a followup article addressing this issue (thx Darrow). Apparently the law is directed at full-time photographers who photograph passersby on the streets:

”Our policy has been that the street photographer license would apply to persons who are stationed on public space to take photos of passersby,” said agency spokesman Helder Gil in an e-mail. Amateurs aren’t covered, he said, nor are “journalists, professional photographers who take pictures of buildings/scenery, or wedding photographers taking pics of happy couples on D.C. streets and sidewalks.”

So as long as you don’t make a living hustling tourists for snapshots, you can snap away without keeping an eye on your watch.

Image credit: Washington DC – Police Officers at Freedom Plaza by thisisbossi

  • Hal Lee

    There will never be a time-lapse of D.C. again. 

    How ridiculous.

  • Ghost

    Should I laugh or cry?

  • Bob Dunkin

    Laws are written for a specific reason, with a specific intent or goal.  This is just too poorly written to have any meaning whatsoever based on the ‘explanation’.  Sure, they may not do that NOW, but the way that it is written means that they ‘could’ in the future.  There is not supposed to be “Police Officer Interpretation”…at least not to this extent.  

  • Jay

    DC is an overly shot place anyways. There’s not a photo taken there that hasn’t already  been shot 1,000 times.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, and everywhere else hasn’t already been covered in a bazillion photos by people posting pics to their facebook wall and overloaded flickr account. Screw shooting DC.

    You can’t even go to the Congo and not shoot something that hasn’t already been shot 3000 times, bud.

    Don’t think that something that has been shot before is no longer worth shooting…

  • Daniel Yu Suzuki

    I am sorry, so are they saying I now I need a license to practice my first amendment rights in WASHINGTON DC?

  • Tran-Shawn Yu

    hmmm…. I didn’t know professional photographers had some sort of “professional photographer” license…   Last I checked, the difference between a lot of advance-amateurs and “professionals” is that one does it for fun, and the other does it for fun and money!

    How the heck are the police going to know the difference between a hobbyist taking pictures of their friends in DC vs a professional doing engagements…?

  • coyote

    So, ummm, how long after this is enacted, before the DC police independently begin to re-interpret the law to mean *any* photographer?  Anecdotes from other jurisdictions seem to suggest that if there’s a law that can used that way, even tangentially, some street cop will take it as gospel…

  • M.H.

    I shoot full 360 degree equirectangular panoramas from unusual and hard to reach perspectives (rooftops, church steeples, cliff-faces).  I guarantee you I can get a shot that hasn’t been done before.  Problem is, they take 20-30 minutes to shoot (if there are no issues… people getting into multiple frames, kids running by and bumping the tripod, battery changes, etc.).  My last panorama had to be restarted 4 times before I could complete it, took 2 1/2 hours total before I was finished shooting.