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NPPA Seeks Repeal of D.C. Regulations Limiting Street Photography

October 31st, 2011 by Mickey Osterreicher

On Monday, October 31, 2011 NPPA general counsel, Mickey H. Osterreicher, sent a letter to the Hon. Irvin B. Nathan, Attorney General for the District of Columbia. The letter dealt with Police Regulations for the District of Columbia that affect photographers. In it referred to Article 31, Chapter 24, §§ 521 – 523, respectively entitled “Street Photography: Business Licenses,” “Street Photography: Individual Photographers” and “Street Photography: Requirements and Restrictions.” Of concern to the NPPA is the vague and overly broad language contained in these regulations that may be open to misinterpretation and abuse of discretion by police in their enforcement.

Specifically, §24-521.1, states “No person, firm, or corporation shall engage in the business of taking photographs of any person or persons upon the streets, sidewalks, or other public spaces of the District of Columbia, for profit or gain, without first having obtained a license to do so from the Mayor (emphasis added).  Section 24-522.1, states “No individual not licensed under §521 shall take a photograph of any person or persons, for either direct or indirect profit or gain, upon any of the streets, sidewalks, or other public spaces of the District of Columbia persons, without first having obtained a license to do so from the Mayor as provided in this section” (emphasis added). Additionally, §24-523.3 states “While engaged in taking photographs, no person licensed under §521 or §522 of this chapter shall impede traffic as defined in the District of Columbia Traffic Acts; nor shall any photographer remain longer than five (5) minutes at any one (1) location on the streets, sidewalks, or other public spaces” (emphasis added).

In the letter Osterreicher asserted that “these three vague and incrementally overly broad sections taken together could be interpreted to mean that any photographer taking a photograph of anything, be it a building, person or inanimate object for longer than five (5) minutes would be in violation of the regulations and subject to fine or arrest.” “We contend that this licensing scheme, based upon regulations that are facially inconsistent with the protections provided under the First Amendment, is unconstitutional,” he added.

Osterreicher went on to say that “these facially defective regulations will only further contribute to the erroneous belief by law enforcement that public photography may be arbitrarily limited or curtailed.” He requested that these regulations be repealed immediately and in the alternative proposed to work with Attorney General Nathan “to draft revised language that would be more narrowly tailored to serve a substantial government interest as a reasonable time, place and manner restriction on commercial photography.”

The NPPA is concerned, given the recent penchant for police to interfere with, harass and in many cases arrest photographers, that these infringing regulations would provide the police with unbridled discretion to abridge the rights of photographers covering such events as “Occupy Wall Street” or any situation involving “photography of any person(s)” or lasting longer than five (5) minutes in any one location.

It is believed that these regulations were put in place to regulate photographers who (acting as something like to commercial street vendors) take photographs of others on a public street and then attempt to sell prints or copies to the subjects of those photos. None of the regulations actually define the term “street photography,” which has a more common definition as “a type of documentary photography” practiced by such world renowned photographers/photojournalists as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Alfred Eisenstaedt and Robert Frank to name a few.

Posted in Access, business, D.C., District of Columbia, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, law, Legal, National Press Photographers Association, News Photography, NPPA, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, Police, Public Photography, Regulations limiting photography, Street Photography | No Comments »

NPPA Commends CCR in Settlement of a Federal Lawsuit Filed on Behalf of Arrested Journalists

October 4th, 2011 by Mickey Osterreicher

Given the rash of recent incidents involving the arrest of citizens and journalists around the country, NPPA commends the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) for the agreement they have obtained on behalf of journalists in Goodman, et al. v. St. Paul, et al. We agree with  CCR Legal Director Baher Azmy, who said the settlement “sends an important message to police departments all over the country . . . that failure to respect the constitutional rights of citizens and journalists may expose municipalities to serious liability.”

The terms of the settlement include compensation of $100,000 for the three named journalists as well as an “agreement by the St. Paul police department to implement a training program aimed at educating officers regarding the First Amendment rights of the press and public with respect to police operations—including police handling of media coverage of mass demonstrations—and to pursue implementation of the training program in Minneapolis and statewide.” Written proposals for these programs, which must be approved by the Plaintiffs and their lawyers are expected to be submitted by the end of the year.

The lawsuit was filed on May 5, 2010 in the United States District Court in the District of Minnesota by the Center for Constitutional Rights and pro bono attorneys Steven Reiss from Weil, Gotshal and Manges LLP in New York and Albert Goins of Minneapolis on behalf of three “Democracy Now!” journalists, Amy Goodman, Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar, against federal and local law enforcement agencies. The defendants in the lawsuit were: the City of St. Paul, the City of Minneapolis, the County of Ramsey, St. Paul police chief John Harrington,  Minneapolis police chief, Timothy Dolan, Ramsey County Sheriff, Bob Fletcher, an unidentified U.S. Secret Service agent and multiple unidentified law enforcement officers. The matter arose  during the 2008 Republican National Convention, where it was alleged that law enforcement agencies targeted journalists in violation of their Constitutional rights and subjected the journalists to unlawful arrest, unlawful search and seizure and unreasonable use of excessive force. All charges were later dismissed.

The complaint also alleged that “by arresting, assaulting, and detaining Plaintiffs and other members of the press, law enforcement significantly hindered Plaintiffs’ ability to . . . report on vital matters of public concern     . . .  and the conduct of law enforcement personnel . . . .”  According to reports “scores of journalists and other members of the media were arrested, detained, assaulted and searched. Their belongings were also seized and searched, including their cameras, video and other media equipment. The journalists prominently displayed their press credentials throughout the incidents and repeatedly identified themselves as members of the media to the acting law enforcement.”

NPPA commends CCR for its strong stance in protecting the rights of journalists. We expect that the terms of the settlement in this case will send a strong message to law enforcement agencies around the country. The recent and continuing conduct by law enforcement agencies in harassing, detaining, interfering with and in some cases arresting citizens and journalists engaged in constitutionally protected  activities  under color of law must cease. In each of these cases NPPA has requested that the offending police agency implement proper policies, procedures and guidelines as well as training for officers regarding the First Amendment rights of the press and public.

Posted in Access, broadcasting, Cameras, confiscated, Democarcy Now!, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, Fourth Amendment, Fourth Amendment rights, law, Legal, Minneapolis Police, National Press Photographers Association, News Photography, NPPA, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, Police, Public Photography, Recording Police, Search and Seizure, St. Paul Police, U.S. Secret Service, video cameras, violating | No Comments »