March 10th, 2012 by Alicia Calzada and tagged agricultural, Agricultural Property Release, agriculture, farm bills, iowa, journalism, NPPA, photography, photojournalism, photojournalist, recording, television, Utah, video, visual journalism
The first two in a series of so-called “Ag-Gag” bills has been enacted into law. The bills, different versions of which have been pending in over half a dozen states, target animal rights activists but frequently are written in broad language that impacts other lawful First Amendment activity.
Iowa was the first state to pass a bill, in early March, making access to an agricultural facility by “false pretenses” illegal. It was heavily amended from its original version. The introduced version of the bill would have made recording while on the farm without the consent of the owner a misdemeanor (and a felony for a second offense) and made mere possession of photographs or video resulting from the earlier act a crime. Thankfully, that version did not pass- it would have been easily found unconstitutional. To put this into perspective, the only other category of photography that is a crime to possess is child pornography. In fact, just a couple of years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to criminalize the possession of video depicting animal cruelty.
A bill making photography of farm operations without the consent of the owner illegal has passed in Utah. The Utah state senate passed HB 187 and it is headed to the governor for a signature. An amendment was made after the NPPA and several other groups protested the original language of the bill. The bill makes it a crime to photograph “agricultural operations” without consent of the owner.Â There was no distinction in the original version of the bill for private vs. pubic property, and the wording left open the possibility prosecution for photographing animals grazing on public lands. The bill was amended to clarify that “agricultural operations” is “private property” and passed with that language. However the bill is still problematic as it takes a crime- trespassing- and makes it subject to a greater punishment (a Class A misdemeanor vs. a Class B misdemeanor) because the added element of a First Amendment activity is involved.
A bill pending in New York, would criminalize the “unauthorized video, audio recording or photography done without the farm owner’s written consent.” Like certain proposals NPPA objected to in the last, there is not even a limitation in this bill that the photographer be trespassing. As written, it would be a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in prison, or a fine of $1,000 to stand on the side of the road and photograph farm animals or farm.
Even bills which makes it a crime to take photographs on a farm while trespassing are problematic because an essential element of the crime is photography. It is a content-based restriction (with a specific list of what would be in the photograph that would convert an otherwise law abiding photographer into a criminal).
The application of these laws to photographic activity will be subject to constitutional scrutiny. NPPA will continue to monitor and oppose these bills as we have done in the past.
NPPA is drafting a model release for photographers in Utah and Iowa to bring to assignments on property that could be considered an agricultural operation, or otherwise subject to this law.
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