The Mayor's Office of Theater, Film, and Broadcasting, which coordinates film and television production and issues permits around the five boroughs, is considering rules that could potentially severely restrict the ability of even amateur photographers and filmmakers to operate in New York City. The NY Times reports that the city's tentative rules include requiring any group of two or more people who want to use a camera in a single public location for more than a half hour 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 the time to set up the tripod. Does the Gorillapod count?
The New York Civil Liberties Union is concerned that due to the vagueness of the proposed rules' wording, that they could possibly be applied to amateur photographers or tourists taking snapshots or hobbyists making short movies for an online outlet like YouTube. The filming of political protests by participants isn't even mentioned, although it would certainly seem to apply. Christopher Dunn of the NYCLU accused the city of purposefully making the regulations vague to allow selective enforcement by the police, since the NYPD's selective enforcement of ambiguous laws usually results with citizens getting the short end of the legal stick.
The Times reports that the new codification of filming and photography requirements resulted from the 2005 detention and questioning of an Indian documentary filmmaker.
During his detention, Mr. Sharma was told he was required to have a permit to film on city property. According to a lawsuit, Mr. Sharma sought information about how permits were granted and who was required to have one but found there were no written guidelines. Nonetheless, the film office told him he was required to have a permit, but when he applied, the office refused to grant him one and would not give him a written explanation of its refusal.
Part of the City's settlement with Mr. Sharma was the current proposed regulations, which seems to narrow, rather than simply elucidate, the ability of visitors and New Yorkers to film and photograph freely around the city. If you're a street photographer interested in time-lapse series or careful composition, forget it or hurry up, because the cops could be coming for you.
The MTA considered a ban on subway photography in 2004. Even though the the proposed ban never went through, cops continued to threaten to confiscate cameras or memory cards years after the proposal was suggested. Hmm, is it time for another protest? The Office of Theater, Film, and Broadcasting will be publishing the final version of the rules at the end of July, and the rules would go into effect in August.
Photograph of tripod-toting photographers by seth_holladay on Flickr