PHOTOGRAPHY & THE LAW: War on Photography
Posted by Mickey H. Osterreicher — 18 Jan 2012I have been asked to write a blog about legal issues facing photographers. I thought that the best way to begin was to provide a little bit of background about myself and a brief overview of some of the things that are happening on an almost daily basis throughout the country.
As Of Counsel to Hiscock & Barclay, LLP my practice area is Media & First Amendment Law. Most importantly I also serve as General Counsel to the National Press Photographers Association. Before becoming an attorney I was a photojournalist with almost forty years experience in print and television. Rather than bore everyone - for those who want to know more about me they can read my Bio or go to my profile page.
There has always been tension between the press and government regarding news coverage of matters of public interest. Unfortunately since 9/11 the "War on Terrorism" has somehow morphed into the "War on Photography." Visual journalists and citizens taking photographs or recording video in public places have been experiencing extraordinary interference nationwide from security personnel and law enforcement officials at all levels of government. This infringement upon protected First Amendment activities is often based on erroneous beliefs by those in authority that photography of certain public areas, buildings, landmarks or police officers may be prohibited because of anti-terrorism concerns.
In recent months the Occupy Wall Street protests have only exacerbated the situation - where photographers have been detained, interfered with and in many cases arrested for doing nothing more than taking pictures or recording video of matters of public concern in traditional public forums such as parks and city streets.
As one of two NPPA attorneys I get calls and emails everyday concerning incidents involving photographers. In many cases just publicizing what happened helps. Other cases are worthy of writing about in the NPPA blog, which in recent days has been full of such stories. Recently, Donald R. Winlsow, the editor of News Photographer Magazine, published a nightmare tale about what happened to one photojournalist when he was arrested by police in Montgomery County, MD for doing nothing more than recording their activities. Another recent case involved a student photojournalist at R.I.T. covering an Occupy Rochester protest who was arrested. Because he was an NPPA student member I represented him in court and was able to have the charges dismissed.
But these horror stories about blatant violations of First Amendment rights don't just happen to news photographers. In the next installment of Photography & the Law I will tell you about some of the citizens who have had the unfortunate experience of being stopped, interfered with and all too often arrested for doing nothing more than taking a picture or recording video.
For those interested the NPPA is a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of visual journalism in its creation, editing and distribution. NPPA's almost 7,000 members include photographers, editors, students and all those interested in photography willing to abide by a code of ethics. Since its founding in 1946, the NPPA has vigorously promoted the constitutional rights of journalists as well as freedom of the press in all its forms.
Feel to follow me on Twitter @nppalawyer or Facebook and please don't forget to take a look at the NPPA website where you can find out more information about membership in an organization that advocates for and helps protect all photographers' rights. I look forward to discussing these issues with you, the JPG community, and writing about the many different facets of photography and the law such as copyright, licensing and user-generated content.