Picture This -- Photography Restrictions in NYC?!
Want to take a photo on the streets of Manhattan? Soon it might get a lot tougher. New proposed rules from the Mayor’s Office of Film are requiring permits for a lot of people who photograph and film in New York. The rules state that (this is directly from the Office's website):
1) Film or still photography activity involving a tripod and a crew of 5 or more persons (at one site for 10 or more minutes) would require a permit, or the same activity among two people at a single site for more than 30 minutes. However, note that this situation is RARE for recreational photographers;
2) Applicants unable to meet the insurance requirement may be eligible for a waiver of insurance;
3) Still photographers engaged in "permitted" activity (activity where you need a permit) would require insurance. "Permitted" activity can include those where vehicles or equipment other than hand-held cameras are used.
Although the office claims that these rules are merely a codification of regulations that have been in place for decades (although they only mention in the fine print that they require $1 million of insurance), the city’s creative community is up in arms about this. Picture New York, a new activist group made up of NYC-area photographers and filmmakers, have organized an online petition and a protest in Union Square on Friday, July 27 (6:30 EST if you’re interested).
The petition, in particular, has drawn a hell of a lot of attention, with signatures by everyone from scruffy indie filmmakers to bigwigs at places like Getty (as well as Michael Stipe, Patti Smith and Amy Arbus). (Disclosure: I share office space with two of the group's co-founders Beka Economopoulos and Jason Jones, who run The Change You Want to See gallery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, ).
The worst thing about these new regulations is their sheer cynicism -- the code is basically designed to be a weapon to use against people who piss off the cops for other reasons, not to be enforced across the board. I’ll be money that the cops aren’t going to start citing tourists from Ohio who take too long snapping photos outside The Lion King (because there just aren’t enough cops to do that)– it’s going to be used against demonstrators, guerrilla filmmakers, people like that.
As Beka says, "ultimately, these regulations pave the road for selective and discrminatory enforcement. The Caberet Law, the parade and assembly regulations - it's a 'you can beat the rap but you can't beat the ride' mentality that gives the police room to arrest someone only to have the charges thrown out later."
Or as the New York Daily News puts it:
The regulations, drawn up with the complicity of the Law Department, are, in a word, nuts. They address a nonexistent threat to the public weal. They were written as if small bands of rogue photographers were running amok. And they won't withstand court challenge unless the cops come down equally on everyone taking pictures, including mom and dad filming junior and pals at the playground.
The reason for this nonsense is that in May 2005, a few overzealous cops stopped a documentary filmmaker who was videotaping taxis near the MetLife Building. They detained him, confiscated his camera and told him, among other things, that he needed a permit. The New York Civil Liberties Union filed suit and discovered that nowhere among all the materials promoting New York as filmmaker heaven did Oliver's office define who needed a permit and who didn't.
So the bureaucrats wrote rules, and beginning in September two or more people with a camera in one area for a half-hour, or five or more people with a camera and - gasp! - a tripod in one place for more than 10 minutes will have to have a permit for their "photo shoot." And don't forget that $1 million insurance policy.
Herewith a startling statement: Our friends at the NYCLU, with whom we disagree so frequently, are right. (Hell doth freeze over.) The regs are boneheaded. The police already have the power to stop people, with or without cameras, from blocking sidewalks and streets. And even city lawyers say upfront that the rules will be selectively enforced. Tourists with camcorders will get a pass, and those unable to afford $1 million in insurance will be granted waivers.
Photography restrictions are increasingly becoming a hot-button issue for a number of reasons -- the growing number of “Private/Public” spaces, the growing interest in amateur photography brought by cheap digital cameras and cameraphones, and the increasing organization of those amateur photographers through Flickr and other online photo-sharing groups. For more, check out our stories on photo bans in Silver Spring and Rockville, MD.