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 | 6 Comments »

6 Responses to “NPPA Seeks Repeal of D.C. Regulations Limiting Street Photography”

  1.   James Edward Bates Says:

    Wow. Though I’m not surprised at all. Thanks for fighting this NPPA.

  2.   Bossi Says:

    I know the article aimed to be a bit more formal & linking may not have quite fit within the context, but here’s just a bit more info & commentary on the DC law:

  3.   Thomas Michael Corcoran Says:

    Only a prison state like North Korea would have such restrictions! This isn’t the America I want to live in!

  4.   John Rudoff Says:

    Obviously defective regs; and M. O. is quite correct that this encourages overly broad interference by police or security people, who are not attuned to legal niceties or the 1st Amendment, for that matter. Go to it, Mickey!

  5.   Scott Says:

    I would very much like to know Exactly When they start timing us.

    I would also like to know if we move two feet, will they have to start timing us again?

    I would also like to know if we move two feet and then return to the same spot, will they have to start timing us again?

    These are Very Legitimate Questions, and I would really appreciate anyone either answering or pointing me in the direction as to where I might be able to find out.

    Thank You!

  6.   Scott Says:


    I just emailed Irvin B. Nathan, (Attorney General for the District of Columbia) with those questions.

    I’ll let you know if I receive a response.

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