What do you think of this photo of a refinery by photographer Sander Roscoe Wolff? Apparently Long Beach police don’t think very highly of it. Wolff was detained after capturing it last month, and now the police chief is saying that stopping photographers for photos with “no apparent esthetic value” is part of department policy. The Long Beach Post writes,
“If an officer sees someone taking pictures of something like a refinery,” says [Police Chief Jim McDonnell], “it is incumbent upon the officer to make contact with the individual.” McDonnell went on to say that whether said contact becomes detainment depends on the circumstances the officer encounters.
McDonnell says that while there is no police training specific to determining whether a photographer’s subject has “apparent esthetic value,” officers make such judgments “based on their overall training and experience” and will generally approach photographers not engaging in “regular tourist behavior.”
Telling police officers to be the judge in determining whether a photograph has any artistic value doesn’t seem like a very good way of catching the bad guys… What if some terrorist is an awesome photographer?
Freelance news photographer Phil Datz was recording the conclusion of a police chase from the opposite sidewalk last Friday when he was confronted by a police officer and commanded to “go away”. Though he politely obeyed and moved a block further from the scene, the officer decided to arrest him for “obstruction of governmental administration”. The latest news is that the department is planning to drop the charges and put its officers through “media relations training”.
On June 21, 2011, non-profit organization Shoot Experience sent out six photographers to various parts of London to see the current state of photographers’ rights.
Some used tripods, some went hand held, one set up a 5 x 4.
All were instructed to keep to public land and photograph the area as they would on a normal day. The event aimed to test the policing of public and private space by private security firms and their reaction to photographers.
The result? Every one of the photographers was confronted at least once, and in three cases the police were called.
If your photographs ever include the faces of strangers, you might not want to move to Slovenia. Boštjan Burger, a Slovenian photographer that shoots immersive 360° panoramas, has been ordered by the government there to take down roughly 11,000 photo from his website and delete them from his backups because they violate privacy laws. His crime? Showing faces, street addresses, and license plates in his panoramas taken in public locations. Rather than face a year in jail and a €12,000 (~$20,000) fine, photo pages on his site now read “DISPLAY OF VIRTUAL REALITY PANORAMA IS DISABLED DUE THE SLOVENIAN GOVERNMENT INSPECTION”.
Turns out living in the European Union doesn’t automatically grant you basic photographers’ rights.
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam signed a new law last week that makes it a crime to post images to the Internet that “frighten, intimidate, or cause emotional distress.” Violators found guilty of doing so now face up to one year in jail and $2,500 in fines.
[...] for image postings, the “emotionally distressed” individual need not be the intended recipient. Anyone who sees the image is a potential victim. If a court decides you “should have known” that an image you posted would be upsetting to someone who sees it, you could face months in prison and thousands of dollars in fines. [#]
Needless to say, the Internet is in an uproar over this, and it seems pretty likely that the law will be struck down for being unconstitutional very soon.
On Memorial Day 2011, Narces Benoit witnessed and filmed a group of Miami police officers shooting and killing a suspect in a car chase and armed robbery. He was then confronted by officers who handcuffed him and smashed his cell phone, but Benoit was able to sneakily preserve the video with some quick thinking. The Miami Herald writes,
Benoit said the officers eventually uncuffed him after gunshots rang out elsewhere and he discreetly removed the [memory] card and placed it in his mouth.
Officers again took his phone, demanding his video. He said they took him to a nearby mobile command center, snapped a picture of him, then took him to police headquarters and conducted a recorded interview while he kept the [memory] card in his mouth. He insisted his phone was broken.
29-year-old student and avid photographer Christopher Fussell was taking photographs of trains at a Baltimore station back in March when he was confronted by Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) officers. He was able to record the conversation, which shows the officers having a complete lack of understanding of laws and photographers’ rights. Fussell writes,
I have no qualms with MTA Police inquiring what I’m doing, but the fact that they took it to the next level with so many lies, unreasonable detainment, denying my boarding of my train that caused me to be delayed and following me to delay me further; this whole episode of theirs was unprofessional and perhaps unconstitutional. I am posting this video in hopes to further strengthen photographer’s constitutional rights.
The story has since become a pretty big deal after the video went viral online, with the MTA admitting that the officer had incorrectly cited the Patriot Act and other laws. The American Civil Liberties Union has also sided with Fussell and may sue MTA over his detainment.
Libertarian magazine Reason created this video about the erosion of photographers’ rights in the United States. One of the cases highlighted is the one involving Antonio Musumeci, who was arrested for filming a government building and came out victorious in a lawsuit with the help of the NYCLU.
Since launching in 2008, TwitPic has been at the center of quite a few copyright controversies and legal battles, especially when disasters strike and Twitter users are able to publish photos of things that are happening well before major news outlets. Back in early 2010 photographer Daniel Morel had an iconic photograph taken during the Haiti earthquake widely republished in newspapers across the world without his permission after he uploaded the photos to TwitPic, then later that year Twitter’s decision to display TwitPic photos directly on their website caused a brouhaha. TwitPic has finally decided to update their Terms of Service to make it clear that users of the service retain the copyright of everything they upload. Read more…
New Jersey is considering a new law that would make it a third-degree crime to photograph children without parental consent. More specifically, bill A3297 would prevent people from shooting photos or videos of children when “a reasonable parent or guardian would not expect his child to be the subject of such reproduction”. Apparently the bill was proposed after a 63-year-old pedophile was caught recording young children at a swimming pool last summer, but was released because he hadn’t committed any serious crime. In New Jersey, third-degree crimes carry potential punishments of 3-5 years in jail and a $15,000 fine.
It’s too bad bad a few bad apples always seem to ruin things for legitimate photographers.