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July 30, 2007

Bloomberg's plan to restrict photography in NYC

The Bloomberg administration is quietly pushing new regulations that would ban certain kinds of photography in New York City without a permit and $1 million in liability insurance:

The new rules, which were proposed by the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting, would require any group of two or more people who want to use a camera in a public place for more than 30 minutes to get a city permit and $1 million in liability insurance. The same requirements would apply to any group of five or more people who plan to use a tripod in a public location for more than 10 minutes, including the time it takes to set up the equipment. The permits would be free.

City officials said they would decide after next Friday whether to adopt the rules as they are, amend them or draft new rules and reopen the public review process. [NYT]

Ironically, Bloomberg is just fine with unlicensed cameras when they are trained on citizens in the name of security and fighting petty crime.

Photography is an established form of free speech. We shouldn't have to get permission permission or taking and million-dollar insurance policy in order to exercise our First Amendment rights.

It seems clear that this measure is designed discourage small-time filmmakers from shooting in the city. Cynics would speculate that the Mayor's Office of Film, Theater, and Television wants to create a monopoly for the big commercial filmmakers who generate revenue for the city.

The rules apply to still photographers as well. There are no exceptions for amateurs. It's not clear whether this ban will apply to journalists as well--nothing I've read suggests otherwise. Are they really saying that every camera crew in the city has to get a permit before it shows up to cover a story?

The New York Civil Liberties Association has pledged to sue the city if these unconstitutional restrictions become law.

Picture New York is a newly-formed advocacy group fighting the proposed restrictions. You can sign their e-petition here.

HT: Elana at DMIblog.

Update: Here are the proposed regulations in full. Based on my incomplete reading, there is a media exemption, but it applies only to those with pre-approved NYPD press passes.

Download moftb_permit_regs.pdf


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No kidding. In New York. In New York City.

Could someone please tell me where I can get some of the dope the Mayor smokes?

Was there some motivating case that hit the headlines, where someone inadvertently brained an innocent bystander with a heavy piece of camera equipment? Or is this just nannystatism for the sake of nannystatism?


This is simply insane. One has to look at WHY would they pass such a law. It's the old qui bono? Can you imagine a family taking some vids or family shots getting a desk appearance ticket for trying to grab some memories?

This is totally without benefit to the people? How about a permit to eat on a picnic blanket.

It's scary... we are covered by surveillance cameras but we can't even take a picture without getting an insurance policy? Ha?

Leaving aside the big civil rights issues, assuming people try to comply with this law, the city has the money to administer a permit office for this? For every wedding, tourist group, family party, etc?

How much is this liability insurance going to bring in for the companies assuming a tenth of the people comply with this law?

There was no specific incident that I'm aware of. Small-time filmmaking and still photography is part of the fabric of life in NYC. I see people making movies on the street every day, clearly without any kind of official permission or traffic control plan, or whatever.

I've certainly never noticed any harmful consequences arising from these projects. In theory a crew might block traffic, but then they'd just get a ticket like everyone else.

I think getting the amateur and low-budget filmmakers off the street is part of Mayor Bloomberg's ascetic municipal aesthetic.

My more cynical side thinks that this move has as much to do with getting citizen journalists off the street as art filmmakers. Quite simply, the city would rather not have independent camera crews at protests or other police actions. Video footage of the police and demonstrators during the RNC already caused a lot of headaches for the powers that be.

Of course, there's the financial aspect. The city makes big bucks from major filmmakers who want to hire out entire blocks and employ NYPD officers to facilitate their operations. Independent filmmakers don't pay City Hall anything for the "privilege" of taking pictures in their own city.

Should everyone in New York City take a picture of themselves giving the finger, with a nice scenic NYC background behind them, and mail them to the mayor's office? Yes, I think so. Make each of them into a postcard. As long as the postcard meets the US Postal Service's postcard guidelines (and most photo paper meets the minimum thickness standard) you should be able to get by with the $0.26 rate. The message on the back could read something like "After careful consideration, this is what I think of your proposed filming restrictions", or something to that effect.

Maybe a bunch of filmmakers could also make DVDs to mail to the mayor's office with the same message.

I'd mail a postcard, but I don't think a picture of me giving the finger with Casper Mountain in the background would achieve the desired effect.

Better yet, everyone in NYC should form teams of five people and a tripod and spend more than ten minutes taking each others' pictures giving the finger--just to defy as many provisions of the proposed law as possible.

To any liberals who believe its OK to vote Republican for local offices:


I am shocked and outraged. Tourists should also complain loudly to his office.

Has Bloomberg personally endorsed this law, or has it maybe just been proposed by some committee of the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting, without getting a wider airing and vetting? It seems strange that they would want to waste their time pursuing this, since I would imagine that even with our increasingly conservative courts, this law would easily get struck down upon the first attempt to enforce it.

P.S. Incidentally, Lindsay, the law does make an exception to allow photography and filming of protests. So the protests are probably not a motive.

I downloaded the full text of the regulations and appended them to the original post, in case anyone's interested.

There's definitely a media exemption for those with NYPD press passes, specifically. Those are reserved for a certain class of correspondents--not strictly MSM employees, but to people with publication records. So, there's no exemption that I've seen yet for wholly unaffiliated citizen journalists.

This is out of a Mayor's Office, so Bloomberg answers for its content.

"This is out of a Mayor's Office, so Bloomberg answers for its content."

Yes, no disagreement here, Bloomberg bears responsibility. What I meant is that I'm puzzled by the motivation for proposing a law that will most likely be struck down, and I'm wondering if it's a fuck-up by a smaller group people who didn't know what they were doing, or a more sinister plan that I don't understand.

Incidentally, I read through the entire text of the law, and saw only the press pass exception.

Here's the press pass exemption I've read so far:

(c) Press passes. The use of a press pass issued by the New York City Police Department (“NYPD”) in accordance with Chapter 11 of Title 38 of the Rules of the City of New York (“Press Credentials”), where an individual is acting in furtherance of the activity authorized by such press pass, and is engaged in filming as defined in these rules, does not require that a permit be obtained pursuant to this chapter.

That's on page 3 of the .pdf that I uploaded.

I've looked into getting an NYPD press pass and I must admit, the NYPD sets the bar admirably low. Basically, you have to certify that you work for some regular newsish publication, or that you've got some press clippings for review. I never got around to applying because I've only photographed in uncontestably public space--the street, City Hall, etc. So, I have no idea if they're actually as lenient as the official policy would imply.

If this City Rule passes, however, it seems that I've got to get a permit to do my job if I expect to work with any colleagues with a tripod. As I read the law, it would require any team that shows up to cover a City Council meeting to apply for a friggin' permit and buy insurance. Maybe I'm reading this wrong but the rules say that the mandate applies not only to public streets, but to city buildings.

Also, I notice that to get you NYC shooting permit you've got to submit your name, address, etc. to the authorities for approval. That's objectionable in and of itself.

Take it from me. The cost of buying $1,000,000 in liability insurance will be enough to shut some photographers down.

This is a regulatory solution to a problem that does not exist. I don't get it.

I know a certain radio host in Austin who's been talking about this for two months now. It's all part of the new freedom.

I'm kidding, but you should all have your assets frozen for even hinting that you might protest. You're putting someone's children in danger. THEY HATE OUR FREEDOM, don't you get it? I mean... 9-11! Have you forgotten? EMBRACE SURVEILLANCE. After all, the polls say you want to be watched.

Best thing I can see doing is to rattle the phones and cages of the Bloomberg office. Go there, if you can. Get a group together and protest on-site. Fax him and call him a son-of-a-bitch, or whatever. A Bloomturd.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg
City Hall
New York, NY 10007
PHONE 311 (or 212-NEW-YORK outside NYC)

FAX (212) 788-8123


Let 'em know what you think. They're your elected servants, and you are, after all, a vigilant citizenry, right?

John Lucid - Should everyone in New York City take a picture of themselves giving the finger, with a nice scenic NYC background behind them, and mail them to the mayor's office? Yes, I think so.

There is sort of a precedent at, home of the official Hummer H2 salute.

Then there was another very NYC sort of protest about those God-damned car alarms: ”honku”.

I suspect this nonsense was hatched in the fevered brains of civic booster, PR types that don’t want any arty, frenchified, film-school lefties shooting the kind of dirt and grime that keeps tourists from Lubbock away.

Anybody read Iain M Bank's "The State of the Art"? When two representative of The Culture first encounter a sign prohibiting photography, their incredulous response is "Can you believe it? They think they own the light!"

Ah... the almighty Invisible Hand of the divine free market gets an assist from teh Bloomberg...

Well, no. Nothing of the sort. No "conservative values" here.

This isn't anything but an irksome and meddling kind of fascism. I guess thay don't have to hate us for our freedoms anymore.

I think the regulation of shooting images of government agents (police) or public spaces and so on are obviously motivated to limit social cohesion. I think potent counter policy is that public awareness i.e. photos, recordings of all kinds, support kinds of polity, i.e. the support of social cohesion specifically defined. The police must be subject to surveillance, the law support everyone equally.

What does shooting photos for thirty minutes mean anyway? They have nothing but an arbitrary rule to advance the concept. Free speech for billionaires?

The invisible hand is actually the real hands of market manipulators. But then you knew that.

Breakfast At Tiffany's anyone?

I'm not from around there, but if this lunacy passes, let's get every indie and amateur filmmaker we can find and ALL shoot a documentary about 1st amendment rights
simultaneously all over the place in Manhattan.

Should everyone in New York City take a picture of themselves giving the finger, with a nice scenic NYC background behind them, and mail them to the mayor's office? Yes, I think so.

The top banner of the Picture New York website displays randomly any photos that have been added to the PictureNY Flickr group.

Folks can also visit the site to send comments to the Mayor's Office of Film and to the City Council Committee that oversees them. Also to sign the petition.

Lastly, while you're there, check out the Yo! MTV Raps-style video public comment by comedy troupe Olde English.

The press pass exception covers journalists, sure, but it won't cover members of organizations observing protests. Which is probably the whole point.

I somehow doubt they're going to be enforcing this rule against, say, birdwatchers, who often travel in packs and use cameras on tripods, especially when there's a rare bird sighted in an area.

I think you guys are reading way too much into this. The fact that there are specific exemptions made not only for press passes, but for individual photographers (it has to be two or more photographers seems to me to indicate that this is not some sinister attempt to stop people from photographing protests or grime. More likely someone got pissed off at indie film crews, indie modeling shoots, wedding photographers, or something of that ilk blocking the street and the sidewalk. Maybe a local business owner who felt that she was losing business because of the photo shoot camped right in front of her storefront. Maybe someone who was annoyed that they had a hard time just walking from their apartment to the store on the corner. Maybe some commuter who kept running into an indie film crew blocking the road. I dunno. Most likely a bunch of small complaints here and there over time.

That's not to say its not a stupid law, especially with the million dollar liability policy (though that in itself makes me think that maybe there was some incident that prompted this that maybe wasn't a major news story). But to immediately jump to the conclusions here just seems illogical.

It seems clear that this measure is designed discourage small-time filmmakers from shooting in the city.

I wonder if the likes of film schools (i.e. NYU, Columbia U, NYFA) will be exempted?

But yes, given the amount of energy Bloomie has invested in the MOFTT, it's hard not to wonder whether he's trying to make it the Grand Gatekeeper for all filming in NYC, or (as Amanda suggests) the MOFTT are trying to take control of the bureaucracy as part of their monopolizing tendencies?

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