Thursday 8 January 2015

Freedom of Speech Baby!

This is my first post on this blog, and I would like to dedicate it to the memories of the people who lost their lives yesterday in the terrorist attack in Paris, journalists, workers, and police officers.
This tragedy reminded me why I first became interested in copyright: because I love to read books and to read the press. When I was a kid, I read the adventures of the Grand Duduche, a comics created by Cabu, who was assassinated yesterday and later delighted watching Cabu live on French television on Wednesday afternoons, drawing cartoons following the enthusiastic suggestions of kids in the studio. Much later, I started reading Charlie Hebdo, and found Cabu there again, along with other cartoonists. The articles and the cartoons in the journal were often outrageous, but always thoughtfully written or drawn and forced the reader to have an opinion.

Writings are protected by copyright and they are also protected by freedom of speech. This is why a recent U.S. bill, H.R. 5893, is worth noting today. It is a bill “To Restore the First Amendment Rights of Photographers” which was introduced by Rep. Stockman (R-Tex.) on January 2. Its short name is the “Ansel Adams Act,” as an homage to the photographer who took many pictures of U.S. parks.

H.R. 5893 first reminds that photographers have been  threatened in recent years with seizure and forfeiture of their equipment and even have been arrested or threatened to be arrested when on Federal lands and spaces. However, no federal law allows such action. The bill states that these arrests violate freedom of speech and of the press protected by the First Amendment, as “[s]till and motion photographs are speech.”

The bill would oblige federal agencies wishing to restrict photography of its installations or personnel to first obtain a court order outlining the national security or others reasons for the restriction. The court order could, however, allow restrictions of photography if it “may lead to the endangerment of public safety or national security.”

The Act would also prohibit any federal agency to require fees, permits or insurance from photographers wanting to take still or moving images on “Federal Lands, National Parks and Forests, and public spaces, whether for private, media, or commercial use.” It would also prohibit officers to take equipment from the photographers nor could the photographers be ordered to erase the contents of a camera or memory card.

The current Rules and Regulations of the National Parks already states that “[v]isitors [which] are engaged in filming/photography intended for their personal use and enjoyment” are “generally” not required to have a permit. This policy would extend to commercial photographers under the bill, which is not necessarily good policy, as the national parks may need the fees for their maintenance.

The bill has been referred to the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. 

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