Wednesday, July 18, 2007

No Pictures Please: Cities Move to Restrict Photography

New York City is proposing regulations restrictions on public photography, reported the New York Times on June 29, 2007.

A couple weeks later the NYCLU reports that the city has agreed to open up the debate around these regulations which would extend the rules pertaining to commercial film shoots to "any group of two or more people who want to use a camera in a single public location for more than a half hour (including setup and breakdown time) to get a city permit and $1 million in liability insurance. The regulation would also apply to any group of five or more people who would be using a tripod for more than ten minutes, including (setup and breakdown time)", explains The Gothamist.

The concern is largely over the ambiguity of these laws and that they set up complex rules about permission in day-to-day life. And when such restrictions are set up, over and over we hear stories of artists and amateurs being on the wrong side of the law. Documentary filmmaker Jem Cohen has been documenting his own life on film since the 80s. In 2005 he reported that he "was stopped from filming out of a train window and had my film confiscated and turned over to the Joint Terrorism Task Force and the FBI." A series of open letters and a piece he wrote for Filmmaker Magazine are archived here:

So while an artist like Cohen fights for his right to record what he sees, in Quebec civil laws are in place to protect the rights of a person who is photographed, centered around that idea that a person has the right to own and control their own image.

Kristian Gravenor wrote this piece about restrictions on street photographers in Quebec in the Montreal Mirror on August 4 2005. Laws in Quebec require that photographers get permission from their subjects. Included in the story is an interview with documentary maker Gilbert Duclos who made a film on the subject: La Rue Zone Interdite (This Street Off Limits). You can watch it here:

Writes Gravenor
Duclos blames the limitation on shutterbugs on the French Civil Code, which prevails in Quebec over common law, practiced elsewhere in North America. "The right to [one's own] image is an invention of French law," he says. "I made the film to show the stupidity of that notion."