NYC To Redraft Controversial Film and Photo Rules

Posted on 8/7/2007 by Julia Dudnik Stern | Printable Version | Comments (0)

The New York City Mayor's Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting has announced that it will redraft the proposed rules for issuing permits to films or photographs on public property. According to MOFTB commissioner Katherine Oliver, the redraft will address feedback received by the office during the past two months.

The late-May release of the proposed rules governing filming and photography in New York met with considerable opposition from the creative community. One of many anti-terrorism and security measures of recent years, the draft sought to require obtaining government permits for "film or still photography activity involving a tripod and a crew of 5 or more persons (at one site for 10 or more minutes)." Two people filming or shooting on location for more than 30 minutes would also need a permit. Everyone seeking a permit would need to carry $1 million in liability insurance.

City officials maintain that such rules simply codify procedures that have been in practice since MOFTB was established in 1966. They say the rules would not impact press photographers or students. Applicants who demonstrate they are unable to meet the insurance requirement would be eligible for a waver.

Still, the office has been flooded by individual feedback, email petitions and phone calls. On July 27, more than 400 people gathered in Manhattan for a First Amendment rally to protest rules they deemed professionally restrictive and unconstitutional. Various media outlets covered the rally, including The New York Times, Photo District News and individual photographers' blogs.

One concern is that such regulations can set a national precedent. "These restrictions affect us all - as goes NYC so goes Wichita Falls," says Steve Anchell, a Salem, Oregon-based photographer and editor of Focus magazine.

"Being a street photographer often means standing in a random location and waiting," wrote independent New York filmmaker Jem Cohen in a widely circulated email. He pointed out that unlike big film studios, photographers cannot predict the location, duration and timing of every shoot - or afford expensive liability insurance. Large-format, long-lens and time-lapse photography that depend on tripods and can't often be contained to a short time frame would be effectively ruled out.

In the years following 9/11, photographers working in New York have increasingly commented on being unduly harassed by police and security personnel. Many see the new rules as legitimizing such harassment.

Carolyn E. Wright, an attorney specializing in the law for photographers, thinks the proposed rules target photographers unnecessarily. "The fact that someone has a camera in their hands should not be a reason to make them get a permit," Wright writes in a recent article. "If the behavior of a group standing in one place for a specific time is a concern to New York City, then it shouldn't matter that they are taking pictures."

According to an MOFTB statement, the redraft will endeavor "to more effectively strike the balance between public safety and the needs of filmmakers." The release date has not been announced; updates will be posted at After its release, the redraft will be open to public comment for 30 days.

Copyright © 2007 Julia Dudnik Stern. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz


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