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Jem Cohen on NY street photography restricitions

Back in the summer, New Yorkers were faced with a repressive set of proposed regulations by the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre, and Broadcasting (MOFTB) governing filming and photography in the city. Thankfully, an extraordinary outpouring of dissent ensued. An ad hoc group called Picture New York formed and set up a website and online petition. Within weeks, our petition had 35,000 signatures. It was signed not only by New York luminaries including Patti Smith and D.A. Pennebaker, but by many of the world’s top photo-journalists (the world-famous agency, Magnum, linked to the petition on its Paris-based website). Opposition took a wide range of forms, from a Union Square rally to YouTube videos to conjoined efforts with the New York Civil Liberties Union, the National Coalition Against Censorship, and the National Press Photographers Association. In what looked to be a remarkable turnaround, MOFTB went back to the drawing board, promising a new set of regulations which were recently announced.

These revised regulations represent a major improvement, and I commend MOFTB for the bulk of their changes. That said, the devil is in the details, and the details are still troubling.

The core problem is that while the new regulations sensibly use ‘obstruction’ or ‘exerting exclusive control’ of space as criteria for needing a permit to photograph, they don’t make it clear that a photographer/filmmaker’s mere presence simply does not constitute an obstruction or the exertion of exclusive control. The distinction is absolutely crucial. Furthermore, the regulations are written in extremely confusing legalese.

Out on the streets, photographers and filmmakers continue to face serious problems with police interference. Last week, the NYCLU (again) had to sue because a Columbia grad student was detained and handcuffed for taking perfectly legal photographs. Clear, unambiguous regulations that safeguard our rights could actually help prevent future conflicts.

Last week, I attended a town meeting with MOFTB at the Intl. Center of Photography, and came away disappointed and deeply concerned. Surrounded by walls of street photographs, they seemed to remain curiously unwilling to recognize the importance of protecting photographer’s rights as a matter of course; because street photography (and filmmaking) are great New York traditions, and because the 1st Amendment is a great and necessary American tradition.

MOFTB’s usual line of business is regulating larger commercial film shoots where permits are reasonable and helpful. That is their main area of expertise and should be their focus. That’s why our input can help them get this right.

This Thursday, Dec. 13, will likely mark the final outcome of the struggle. It is the last day for public comment on the revised regulations, and the date for a public hearing, after which the proposed regulations will likely become city rules.

Before it’s too late, please take a moment to consider why I, and Picture New York, oppose the new regulations as they are currently written. Then, I hope you’ll send a comment to the MOFTB registering your own concerns, and that you’ll attend the hearing, at 10am on Thursday
at the offices of the Economic Development Corporation,
110 William Street, 4th floor (between Fulton and John Streets).

The campaign against the original regulations was an astonishing and effective demonstration of democracy in action. We are going to have to live with the new rules for quite some time. It would be a real shame not to see this through properly. Doing so will save photographers, the MOFTB, and the police from future trouble, while safeguarding everyone’s civil liberties.

To read more and to link to the MOFTB regulations, go to:

Comments to MOFTB need to go (ASAP!) to:

Jem Cohen


by teru kuwayama at 2007-12-11 20:35:40 UTC (ed. Mar 12 2008 ) new york , United States | Bookmark | | Report spam→

I’m sending an email now!!!

thanks Teru!


by [former member] | 11 Dec 2007 21:12 | Toronto (for now), Canada | | Report spam→
bump!, as Adam reminded!


by [former member] | 13 Dec 2007 13:12 | Toronto (for now), Canada | | Report spam→

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teru kuwayama, I/O teru kuwayama
New York , United States


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