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Texas Court Upholds the Right to Photograph and Record Police Activity

July 26th, 2014 by Alicia Calzada and tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

In an important ruling in Texas, a federal judge held that the right to record police activity is a clearly established right protected by the First Amendment.

In a civil rights lawsuit, Antonio Buehler alleged that his constitutional rights were violated when he was arrested by the Austin Police Department multiple times for taking pictures of police activities. Buehler was first arrested when he came upon a police scene at a gas station, where he began recording the arrest because he felt that excessive force was being used. After that arrest, he formed a group called the “Peaceful Streets Project” and began regularly documenting police activity. He was arrested again and again for documenting police activity, according to the lawsuit.

In an effort to get the lawsuit dismissed, the Austin Police Department claimed “qualified immunity” which protects state officials from suit. However, qualified immunity is not available if officials violate a clearly established constitutional right. In their argument, APD claimed that the right to photograph or videotape police officers “is not recognized as a constitutional right”.

In an order released Thursday, the federal judge in the case held that not only is there a constitutional right to document police officers, but that the right is clearly established. Magistrate Judge Mark Lane held that “the First Amendment protects the right to videotape police officers in the performance of their official duties, subject to reasonable time, place and manner restrictions.”

Continuing, the judge wrote:

If a person has the right to assemble in a public place, receive information on a matter of public concern, and make a record of that information for the purpose of disseminating that information, the ability to make photographic or video recording of that information is simply not a new or a revolutionary expansion of a historical right. Instead the photographic or video recording of public information is only a more modern and efficient method of exercising a clearly established right.

Buehler’s attorney, Daphne Silverman told NPPA, “Antonio and I are pleased with Judge Lane’s ruling upholding the First Amendment right to document police conduct. This is a win for the citizens and should be of no concern to honest police officers.”

The NPPA filed an amicus brief in the case last month in support of Buehler’s position, whose case will now go forward.

See also, http://www.mystatesman.com/news/news/crime-law/federal-judge-upholds-activist-antonio-buehlers-ri/ngnbp/

Posted in Austin Police, blogging, False Arrest, Federal Court, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, Lawsuit, Legal, National Press Photographers Association, NPPA, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, Police, Recording Police | No Comments »

ACLU v Alvarez: The Case Continues

July 5th, 2012 by Mickey Osterreicher and tagged , , , , , , , ,

For those of you following the case of ACLU v Alvarez regarding the constitutionality of the Illinois Eavesdropping act the case is far from over despite the opinion by the United States Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit on May 8, 2012.

Three days later, Appellee Anita Alvarez filed a motion to extend time to file a petition for rehearing and the ACLU filed a response in opposition. Interestingly enough, both parties used the approaching NATO Summit as the justification for their motion: the State’s Attorney, because her staff was busy preparing for it; and the ACLU, because it wished the preliminary injunction immediately put into effect to prevent the enforcement of the Act during the Summit. On May 15, 2012 the court granted the motion to extend the time to file and on May 29, 2012 in accordance with that order the Appellee filed a petition for an en banc rehearing.

As part of its petition, the State’s Attorney claimed that “[t]he panel majority decision . . . creates [an] unlimited First Amendment right of the public to engage in audio-recording and surveillance of public officials encountering private civilians regardless of whether the persons speaking consent to such recording.” Arguing that the Act “requires the recorder to obtain consent from the putative speakers as a prerequisite to recording,” the State’s Attorney maintains that the Act ultimately “regulates conduct (i.e., failing to obtain consent) not speech.”

Following denial of that motion by the 7th Circuit on June 14, 2012 and the transfer of the case to District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman, the ACLU filed for entry of its amended complaint and for the implementation of the preliminary injunction on June 25, 2012. The next day it moved for summary judgment. Not surprisingly, on June 28, 2012 the State’s Attorney once again moved “to stay all proceedings in the District Court so that State’s Attorney Alvarez may prepare and file a petition for writ of certiorari in the instant case to the United States Supreme Court. Alternatively, State’s Attorney Alvarez moves to stay briefing of Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment and allow discovery.”

The ACLU entered its opposition to that motion on July 2, 2012, asserting that “Alvarez does not meet any of the requirements for a stay pending the filing and disposition of a writ of certiorari;” and citing Hollingsworth v. Perry, 130 S. Ct. 705 (2010) for the proposition that “To obtain a stay pending the filing and disposition of a petition for a writ of certiorari, an applicant must show (1) a reasonable probability that four Justices will consider the issue sufficiently meritorious to grant certiorari; (2) a fair prospect that a majority of the Court will vote to reverse the judgment below; and (3) a likelihood that irreparable harm will result from the denial of a stay.”

Among other things, the ACLU argued that the State’s Attorney cannot “meet her burden of proving . . . a reasonable probability that four Justices will vote to grant certiorari;” “that she cannot meet her separate burden of proving ‘a likelihood that irreparable harm will result from the denial of a stay;’” and that she did not articulate with specificity (or in any way whatsoever) facts necessary to overcome  a motion for summary judgment.

Stay tuned for further developments in this ongoing case.

Posted in ACLU v Alvarez, Certiorari, Chicago, Chicago Police, Federal Court, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, Illinois, Illinois ACLU, Illinois Eavesdropping Law, National Press Photographers Association, News Photography, Newsgathering, NPPA, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, Police, Reasonable Expectation of Privacy, Recording, Recording Police, US COurt of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, US Supreme Court | No Comments »

Ninth Circuit: Photojournalist’s Access is a “Fundamental Constitutional Right”

February 16th, 2012 by Alicia Calzada and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

In another victory for photographers, the NPPA is applauding a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit which held that restrictions on a photojournalists’ access to a horse roundup by a federal agency may have violated her First Amendment rights. The appellate court stopped short of ruling that her rights were violated, but remanded the case to a lower court to reconsider the question based on a specific analysis.

In the fall of 2010, photojournalist Laura Leigh set out to cover a wild horse round-up, conducted by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for the purposes of population control.  According to the ruling, while Leigh was covering the round-up, severe restrictions were imposed on her — she was escorted by armed guards and directed to stand in an area in which her view was obstructed. From the location she was forced to stand in, she was unable to observe or photograph the horses being moved or sorted and was unable to view whether or not the horses were injured. Leigh was also prohibited from standing in certain areas even though other members of the public were permitted in those areas.

Leigh attempted to get an injunction and restraining order to provide her with unrestricted access but that request was denied by a federal court. The appellate court reversed the denial, holding that “courts have a duty to conduct a thorough and searching review of any attempt to restrict public access.”

The ruling in Leigh vs. Salazar ordered the lower court to engage in a proper inquiry. Appellate courts generally do not make factual findings and the question of whether Leigh’s rights were violated is very fact specific and required more detailed information than was available to the appellate court.

The court called the photographer’s access to take pictures a “fundamental constitutional right, which serves to ensure that the individual citizen can effectively participate in and contribute to our republican system of self government.” When there is a right of access, the government may only overcome that right by “demonstrating an overriding interest based on findings that closure is essential to preserve higher values and is narrowly tailored to serve that interest.” The National Press Photographers Association and the Reporter’s Committee for Freedom of the Press had filed an amicus brief in support of the photographer after the case was brought to our attention.

Quoting founding father James Madison, the court noted that:

“a popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both.”
9 WRITINGS OF JAMES MADISON 103 (G. Hunt ed. 1910)

Read the entire Ninth Circuit decision here: Decision021412 (PDF)

Posted in Access, Cameras, Federal Court, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, Legal, National Press Photographers Association, NPPA, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, Regulations limiting photography, Street Photography | No Comments »

Seventh Circuit Rules: States May Restrict Broadcasting of Publicly Sponsored Sporting Events

August 25th, 2011 by Alicia Calzada and tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

In a long awaited ruling, the Seventh Circuit on Wednesday held that the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) was within its rights to grant exclusive broadcast rights to a private commercial vendor and to charge news organizations a fee for the right to broadcast games. The court held that such arrangements do not run afoul of the First Amendment.

Addressing only the issue of the broadcasting of the entire event, the court held that a sporting event was a “performance” and the right to broadcast an event in it’s entirety is a proprietary right that a governmental entity may exercise. The case, WIAA v. Gannett began when The Appleton Post-Crescent, a Gannett newspaper, broadcasted several state championship football games online in their entirety, believing that it was within their First Amendment right to do so. The WIAA sued.

The court first rejected the notion that this case was a copyright case and then proceeded to make intellectual property analogies to the sporting events, repeatedly calling the sporting events “performances,” (performances are protected by copyright) and comparing sporting events to concerts, plays and patents, all of which have protectable intellectual property elements. No court has ever held that a sporting event is a copyrightable performance, and this court did not either. A sporting event is not a work of authorship like a concert or a play. While the court fell short of explicitly holding that a sporting event has intellectual property rights, it basically upheld the assertion of intellectual-property-like rights by the WIAA (while insisting that no intellectual property rights were involved). The underlying basis for the court’s holding was the Supreme Court case of Zacchini v. Scripps-Howard, which held that a television station misappropriated the property of a human cannonball performer by broadcasting the performance in its entirety.

A bright spot in the ruling is that the Seventh Circuit rejected the lower court’s finding that sports reporting deserves less First Amendment protection than political reporting, and held that “[t]here is no basis for a rule that makes the press’s right to coverage depend on the purported value of the object of their coverage.” This is a win for the First Amendment.

Importantly, the ruling is limited to the single issue of whether or not the media has a First Amendment right to broadcast an entire event sponsored by a state actor. But the reasoning is broad enough to be interpreted to support a multitude of restrictions. For example, within the restrictions imposed by the WIAA under the exclusive broadcast agreement, news organizations don’t have a right to “live blog” the events. The court took no issue with that aspect of the exclusive agreement, leaving the live blog restrictions in tact.

The court specifically didn’t address issues in the conflict related to still photography, such as reprint sale restrictions, because they were not raised by the parties on appeal.

It will not be surprising if this case is followed by further restrictions on coverage of government events. The fear is that municipalities and sports associations alike may interpret this ruling to mean that a city can sponsor a public event and then restrict who may broadcast the event. This ruling could extend to restrictions on broadcasting parades, marathons, and city-sponsored festivals. Several years ago a Los Angeles District Court ruled that the city could not grant exclusive rights to an “official” television station.

The result is a disappointment to the NPPA, which joined several other news organizations in filing an amicus brief in support of the newspaper  last year.

The entire Seventh Circuit ruling can be found here: WIAA v. Gannett Seventh Circuit Opinion, No. 10-2627

An extensive legal article that I wrote on the issue can be found here:

An earlier NPPA article on the conflict can be found here.

Posted in Access, blogging, broadcasting, copyright, Federal Court, First Amendment, Legal, News Photography, photojournalism, students | No Comments »

New Federal Cameras in Court Pilot Study Commences

July 27th, 2011 by Mickey Osterreicher

On July 18, 2011 the Judicial Conference of the United States began a three-year pilot project to evaluate the effect of cameras in federal district court courtrooms. Fourteen (14) federal trial courts are taking part in the federal Judiciary’s digital video pilot. The participating courts are:

  • Middle District of Alabama
  • Northern District of California
  • Southern District of Florida
  • District of Guam
  • Northern District of Illinois
  • Southern District of Iowa
  • District of Kansas
  • District of Massachusetts
  • Eastern District of Missouri
  • District of Nebraska
  • Northern District of Ohio
  • Southern District of Ohio
  • Western District of Tennessee
  • Western District of Washington

Courts participating in the experiment must follow Guidelines.pdf adopted by the Court Administration and Case Management Committee (CACM). Only civil cases in which all parties have consented to being recorded will be allowed to participate in the pilot with the approval of the presiding judge. Additionally, the parties will be required to consent to the recording of each proceeding in the case. Coverage of the prospective jury during voir dire is prohibited, as is coverage of jurors or alternate jurors.

The guidelines impose additional restrictions in that “pilot recordings will not be simulcast, but will be made available as soon as possible on www.uscourts.gov and on local participating court websites at the court’s discretion.” Only courts participating in the program may record court proceedings for the purpose of public release; courts not selected for participation in the program may not record and release recordings of their proceedings.

It is very important to note that only court personnel or its agents will be permitted to record the proceedings, with the presiding judge having the ability to instantly stop a recording if necessary. Recordings by any other entities or persons – including the media and its representatives – are prohibited. The guidelines also address camera placement and technical setup. Funding for equipment or technical support will be limited, and courts have been discouraged “from purchasing new equipment.”

Since 1996 the Conference has permitted camera coverage of oral arguments in federal courts of appeals at the court’s discretion. Currently both the Second and the Ninth Circuit allow such coverage. There is, however, an absolute ban on electronic media coverage of criminal proceedings in federal courts pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure (FRCP) 53.

This is the second three-year experiment with cameras in the courtroom authorized by the Judicial Conference. The first was conducted between July 1, 1991 and June 30, 1993 with electronic media coverage of civil proceeding in six district courts and two courts of appeals. At the conclusion of the experiment in 1994, despite a report and recommendation stating that “the experimental media coverage did not create sufficient disruption to civil proceedings to warrant the continuation of the prohibition against such coverage” the Conference declined to continue camera coverage and the initial pilot program ended on December 31, 1994.

One of the first federal civil cases covered as part of the new pilot being heard in the Western District of Tennessee in Memphis, involves a local TV reporter who is suing for defamation because of pornographic images and derogatory comments allegedly posted on TheDirty.com website which she claims “could harm her career” (see: complaint).” Although the material was taken down, the plaintiff in Gauck v. Karamian sought a preliminary injunction at a July 21, 2011 hearing seeking to bar any re-posting of the same material.

Also see: http://www.commercialappeal.com.

For a more comprehensive study of cameras in federal court please be sure to look for “Cameras in the Courts: The Long Road to the New Federal Experiment” being published in early August in the Summer 2011 Edition of the Reynolds Courts & Media Law Journal. After print publication it can be found at http://www.courtsandmedia.org/journal.

Additional information regarding the new pilot project may be found at: http://www.uscourts.gov/news/

Posted in Access, Cameras in the Courtroom, Federal Court, First Amendment, multimedia, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism | No Comments »