Category Archive: law

Ag-Gag Arrest: National Geographic photographer George Steinmetz arrested for photographing Kansas feedlot

Black angus beef cattle stand in a holding pen at a ranch near Ledger, Montana, USA. - M. Scott Brauer

Black angus beef cattle stand in a holding pen at a ranch near Ledger, Montana, USA. – M. Scott Brauer

We’ve covered the so-called Ag-Gag bills enacted across the US to outlaw the unauthorized filming and photography of agricultural operations. NPR’s On the Media has a great primer on the recent movement to enact such legislation.

Now, freelance photographer George Steinmetz, on assignment for National Geographic (he’s done 31+ major assignments for the magazine), was arrested after taking pictures of a feedlot in Kansas while paragliding. Steinmetz and his paragliding instructor are charged with trespassing because they took off from private land without permission and because feedlot employees believe that his low altitude and circling pattern constitute trespassing in the air above the feedlot. The case raises interesting questions about how far up above physical land property ownership goes, but also may run afoul of Kansas’ 1990 Farm Animal and Field Crop and Research Facilities Protection Act, an early predecessor of current Ag-Gag laws. Wikipedia has a nice overview of such laws in various states.

A spokesman for the Kansas Livestock Association told the Hutchinson [Kansas] News that Steinmetz’s activities could pose a safety risk to the food supply and reminds agricultural operators to remain vigilant in identifying and reporting similar incidents.

NYT covers legislative bans on photo and video of US farms

Black angus beef graze in open pastures on a ranch outside of Ledger, Montana, USA. -  photo by M. Scott Brauer

Black angus beef graze in open pastures on a ranch outside of Ledger, Montana, USA. – photo by M. Scott Brauer

We’ve written before about the so-called “Ag-Gag” bills that make illegal unauthorized video and photography of agricultural operations in various states. Today, the New York Times has an update on the increasing number of these types of laws throughout the United States: Videos show cruelty on farm, and taping becomes the crime. The NYT’s reporting connects bills across the country to a business advocacy group called the American Legislative Exchange Council. The organization creates model legislation for state legislatures to adopt such as The Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act, which would prohibit video and still photography of livestock farms and puts violators on a “terrorist registry.”

Though no laws including a terrorist registry provision have yet been passed, Iowa, Utah and Missouri have passed laws that make it illegal to document operations on farms and agricultural operations without authorization. Indiana and Tennessee will soon vote on similar laws, and California, Pennsylvania, and other states are debating similar measures. The Indiana law would require prospective employees to disclose ties to animal rights groups during the hiring process. Animal rights groups say that these laws make it impossible to document animal cruelty on farms and ranches. Opponents of bills have managed to stall or stop Ag-Gag bills in New Mexico, New Hampshire, and Wyoming.

Woman arrested for Instagram photo

Instagram photo by Jennifer Pawluck

Graffiti that resembles policeman Ian Lafrenière – Instagram photo by Jennifer Pawluck

This week, Jennifer Pawluck, 20, was accused of criminal harassment and arrested after posting a photo (above) to Instagram. The photo shows a graffiti caricature of Montreal police Commander Ian Lafrenière, and was not painted by Pawluck. She photographed the graffiti on a building on March 26, posted it on Instagram, and was arrested at her home on April 3, nearly a week later. According to a CBC report, the police say that the reason for the arrest extends beyond just posting the photo to Instagram but give no further details. Pawluck says that she just wanted to show some well-done graffiti and did not mean for her actions to be threatening. She is scheduled to appear in court to face charges on April 17. Gawker has a bit more.

A notice doesn’t help: Facebook still gets rights to your pictures

“In response to the new Facebook guidelines I hereby declare that my copyright is attached to all of my personal details, illustrations, paintings, writing, publications, photos and videos, etc. (as a result of the Berner Convention). For commercial use of the above my written consent is needed at all times. (Anyone reading this can copy this text and paste it on their Facebook Wall. This will place them under protection of copyright laws.)” -useless notice going around Facebook right now

Facebook has always had a pretty sketchy set of user guidelines (seriously, read that link!). They can do pretty much whatever they want to do with whatever you post or upload onto the site. Photos, messages, ridiculous cat pictures, whatever…. By virtue of having a facebook account, you have already given facebook the worldwide, sublicensable, royalty-right to do anything they want with photos, video, and text. Here’s the relevant copy from their terms of service:

“For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (IP content), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacyand application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.” Facebook’s terms of service

Any copyright notice, especially one referring to the nonexistent “Berner” convention (it’s the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works), will do nothing for you. You only have 3 ways out of this agreement with facebook: 1. Don’t have a facebook account, 2. Negotiate a special agreement with facebook (good luck!), or 3., Delete your facebook account.

Don’t take my word for it. Snopes, Gizmodo, and Mashable all have more on this subject.

Photographers, city council members sue NYC for systematic violations of civil rights during Occupy Wall Street

“The claims arise from a series of incidents in connection with Occupy Wall Street protests beginning in and around September 17, 2011 and continuing to the present day in which the City of New York in concert with various private and public entities have employed Officers of the New York City Police Department (“NYPD”) and others acting under color of state law, to intentionally and willfully subject Plaintiffs and the public to, among other things, violations of rights to free speech, assembly, freedom of the press, false arrest, excessive force, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution and, furthermore, purposefully obstructing Plaintiffs carrying out their duties as elected officials and members of the press, including oversight of the New York City Police Department.” -Rodriguez Et Al v. Winski Et Al. First Amended Complaint (pdf, scribd link)

We’ve written before about photographers being abused while covering protests in New York City. Now, photographers Stephanie Keith, Charles Meacham, the National Press Photographers’ Association (see their blog about the case), five NYC city council members, and others, have joined in a federal lawsuit against various New York City entities and officials, including Mayor Bloomberg, the Metropolitan Transit Authority, and a number of identified and unidentified police officers, as well as JP Morgan Chase and other businesses in the Occupy Wall Street area, alleging that they engaged in the intentional obstruction of news-gathering activities, the business of elected officials, and Constitutionally-protected protest activities. The complaint can be read in it’s entirety here. In an NPPA press release about the lawsuit, a quotation summarizes photographer Stephanie Keith’s complaints against the city and others, “I joined this lawsuit because as a working journalist I’ve been arrested, thrown to the ground, hit with batons and yelled at by the NYPD while doing my job on assignment. I have seen my fellow journalists being treated this way as well. Why should journalists be subjected to trauma inducing harassment on the job?”

(via PDNpulse)

Apple patents location-based camera disabling

from US patent 8,254,902

from US patent 8,254,902

This policy enforcement capability is useful for a variety of reasons, including for example to disable noise and/or light emanating from wireless devices (such as at a movie theater), for preventing wireless devices from communicating with other wireless devices (such as in academic settings), and for forcing certain electronic devices to enter “sleep mode” when entering a sensitive area. -U.S. Patent No. 8,254,902

U.S. Patent No. 8,254,902, Apparatus and methods for enforcement of policies upon a wireless device, was recently issued to Apple, Inc, makers of the iPhone and other wireless devices. The patent describes a method for restricting the function of a wireless device upon the occurrence of specific events such as when the device enters a specified area; that is, it will be possible to remotely disable all sounds on patrons’ cell phones at a movie theater or to disable the camera function of a phone when the phone is in a concert venue.

Here’s an example from the patent of a scenario in which such function-disabling devices might be deployed: “a wireless camera hidden in an area or brought in by another individual (e.g., a cellular phone camera) where privacy is normally reasonably expected such as a department store changing room, bathroom or locker room is one example of a significant threat to such privacy…The command instructs the device to enter into a “lockdown” mode. Different facilities may enact different “lockdown” modes. For instance, a locker room facility may issue a command that prevents use of a cellular phone camera or laptop computer camera while in that area, thereby preventing surreptitious imaging of customers/users. Customers of such facilities may be willing to pay extra for the peace of mind associated with knowing that they are not being secretly photographed.”

This specific case seems relatively fine; I don’t want people taking pictures of me in my gym locker room. And there are plenty of legitimate uses for this sort of technology; many device manufacturers produce cell phones without cameras or laptops without webcams for use in high security business or government environments. But we’re living in an era in which photographers are regularly placed under suspicion, accosted, or apprehended by security guards and police and the general public for taking pictures of publicly viewable things from public spaces (we’ve covered this a lot in the past, and Carlos Miller’s Photography Is Not A Crime blog is a good one-stop shop for regular updates on this sort of thing). I can easily imagine shopping malls, amusement parks, concert venues, convention sites, skyscrapers, and other highly controlled areas implementing these technological restrictions on picture taking in order to prevent unauthorized pictures from getting out. Or, in a perversion of the old Kodak Picture Spot or an odd twist to the “Free Speech Zones“, pictures might be allowed only in specific locations that provide the appropriate branding or appearance that the site’s owners wish to impart in tourists’ photos. I never like slippery slope arguments; there’s no telling when, how, or if this technology will ever be used. However, it will be an interesting one to watch.

(via PetaPixel)

University of Georgia student newspaper staff walks out after pressure to take grip-and-grin photos and focus on ‘good’ news rather than journalism


  • Content that is ABOUT our audience doing something unique, helpful, outstanding, new,
    dramatic, ie scholarships for freshman.
  • Content that our readers have asked for, ie. how to save money, how to join a club, where to
    tind a job, what’s going on (events), what’s new. We have a list to start. Build the list by talking
    to our audience.


  • Content that catches people or organizations doing bad things. I guess this is ‘journalism’…

If in question, have more GOOD than BAD.” -Expectations of Editorial Director at The Red and Black, 8/15/12

Both Matt and I got our starts in student journalism, together at the official student newspaper at our university, and me at an unofficial student newspaper. One of the most tenuous holds of freedom of the press and speech in the US is in the classrooms of student newspapers, stemming from the landmark court case Hazelwood School District et al. v. Kuhlmeier et al., 484 U.S. 260 (1988). Today, students in the editorial staff at the University of Georgia who run the independent newspaper the Red and Black have walked out after new regulations (may require login to your google account) were imposed on the paper by the paper’s editorial board. At issue, the new regulations require more good news than bad, where bad means “content that catches people or organizations doing bad things” and refers to this sarcastically as “journalism” in scare quotes; require that the paper not print large photos or photos that don’t clearly show the subject; focus on attracting submitted content from readers; and print grip-and-grin photos of the paper’s audience. While the editorial board says these regulations are just a draft, now-former Editor-in-Chief Polina Marinova said in her public resignation letter, that all content to be published by the Red and Black would be reviewed by a non-student Editorial Director prior to publication online or in print. Former student newspaper staff have created their own online publication in the wake of their walkout, Red and Dead.Poynter has more coverage, as does the Student Press Law Center. The Red and Black has released a statement in response to the student staff walkouts.

The whole situation reads like a microcosm of what’s been happening at newspapers across the country as staffs are gutted and institutional knowledge is lost in favor of cheap and quick content.

Covering the DNC and RNC? NPPA has a handy legal and practical guide for the conventions and protests

Police arrest OccupyBoston protesters at their second encampment at Rose F. Kennedy Greenway a block from Dewey Square, in downtown Boston, Massachusetts, USA.  - M. Scott Brauer

Police arrest OccupyBoston protesters at their second encampment at Rose F. Kennedy Greenway a block from Dewey Square, in downtown Boston, Massachusetts, USA. - M. Scott Brauer

While covering these events police may ask to see your images, recordings or files. Be aware that you do not have to consent to such a request. They may try to intimidate, coerce or threaten you into doing so but “consent” must be voluntary. You should know that absent consent or “exigent circumstances” an officer may not seize your camera. Exigent circumstances only exist where an officer has probable cause to believe a crime has been committed AND that you have captured evidence of that crime on your camera AND that there is also a strong likelihood that such evidence may be lost if the camera is not seized.

Are you planning on covering the Republican or Democratic National Conventions at the end of August and beginning of September? You should be aware of legal and practical issues that may arise during the process of documenting both the conventions and the protests around the conventions. The National Press Photographer’s Association has a handy guide that covers the basics of covering both conventions, ranging from what to do if you’re arrested to how to stay safe in a crowd to dealing with the heat. The guide also includes a brief survey of local and federal ordinances and laws that will apply to people on the scene and educated guesses on how police may treat journalists based on recent actions of police in Chicago during the NATO summit protests earlier this year. For instance, items that could be considered weapons will not be allowed close to the convention areas and include items photographers might bring along such as tripod, monopods, and ladders.

Stay safe out there!

Photographers: Know your rights! Gizmodo’s 7 rules for recording police.

“Slowly but surely the courts are recognizing that recording on-duty police is a protected First Amendment activity. But in the meantime, police around the country continue to intimidate and arrest citizens for doing just that. So if you’re an aspiring cop watcher you must be uniquely prepared to deal with hostile cops.” -Gizmodo, 7 Rules for Recording Police

We’ve covered restrictions on photographers before, especially regarding coverage of police. Gizmodo’s recent article, 7 Rules for Recording Police, is an excellent collection of warnings, advice, and tactics, for photographers dealing with police confrontations. The tips all fall under the following headings:

  1. Know the Law (Wherever You Are)
  2. Don’t Secretly Record Police
  3. Respond to “Shit Cops Say”
  4. Don’t Share Your Video with Police
  5. Prepare to be Arrested
  6. Master Your Technology
  7. Don’t Point Your Camera Like a Gun

But more than these headings, the article offers practical advice about what do in particular situations. Under “Respond to ‘Shit Cops Say’,” they advise answering a police’s confrontational “What are you doing?” in a peaceful and information manner. Don’t escalate the matter by responding “I’m recording you to make sure you’re doing your job right” or ignoring the question. Instead, say something like “Officer, I’m not interfering. I’m asserting my First Amendment rights. You’re being documented and recorded offsite.” Of course, all of this is well and good when you’re reading the article at your computer; in the heat of the moment, you can expect things to get ugly and for your rights to be violated. The guide covers that, too. It offers tips for using a smartphone to simultaneously archive images and video online or what to do when you get detained.

Well worth a read!

Photographers watch out! You could be arrested for recording police activity at Chicago NATO events (UPDATED)

UPDATE (7 May 2012): Thanks to Kyle Hillman for writing in with news that the city of Chicago has announced that they will not enforce these eavesdropping laws during demonstrations at NATO events this month. In March of this year, too, a judge ruled that the law barring recording police activity was unconstitutional. Hopefully this law is not long for the world…

Original post: If you’re planning to cover the NATO events in Chicago in a couple of weeks, you need to be aware of Illinois laws regarding police activity (the main G8 meeting was moved to Camp David, but the NATO Summit will continue as planned). We’ve covered this issue before, but it bears repeating. Under Illinois eavesdropping laws, a number of people have been arrested and prosecuted for recording audio (some in the course of recording video) of police activity. While Massachusetts does not prosecute people for openly recording police activity, Illinois has gone after individuals for both secret and opening recording of police duties. A proposed law in Illinois, HB3944, “exempts from an eavesdropping violation the recording of a peace officer who is performing a public duty in a public place and speaking at a volume audible to the unassisted human ear.” There’s a strong argument to be made that even secret recording of police activity is vital to the public interest in fighting police abuse and corruption; it’s a frightening prospect when police work to undermine the public’s protection against their power. But, in the meantime, it remains illegal in Illinois to record audio of police in the state. If you’re planning to capture video or audio at the upcoming Chicago events, be very careful.

While we’re at it (and thinking of a photographer friends’ experiences in Seattle covering Occupy protests yesterday), get acquainted with your rights as a photographer and journalist. Time Lightbox recently published a handy list of links, many of which will be familiar to long-time readers of this blog:

Stay safe out there. None of these resources will protect you when the police or anyone else is hitting you or destroying your gear.