Monday, September 29, 2014

Take Photos in the Wilderness? Better Read This

And by “read this,” I mean this article, not necessarily this blog post, because the article gets you to the place you can grumble about what’s going on and possibly have people listen.

Here’s the deal: The U.S. Forest Service is seeking to make permanent some temporary rules put in place a few years back to require news organizations to acquire permits to the tune of $1,500 a pop in order to film or take photos in any designated wilderness area. Due to misinterpretation of the rule, Idaho Public Television reported they were required to get a permit to talk to a forest service biologist in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest – clearly not a designated wilderness area.

Why is this such a big deal?

It’s restricting press freedom, for one.

And it could potentially restrict any random person’s freedom to take photos on federal land, if the rules are interpreted too loosely.

Write a blog and post your photos? You could be considered a news agency, even if no one reads you. Because you might make money with those photos somehow – and that qualifies as commercial use, not the non-commercial use protected by other federal laws. Take photos in the wilderness and then sell copies of the photo? Oh, you’d better believe that’s a paddlin’.

But the burden of proof appears to lie with forest service officials. If legitimate news organizations are running afoul of the proposed laws, they won’t likely blink at prohibiting any random yahoo from taking photos if they’re photographing something that might not be in the forest service’s best interest. And as Roger Phillips, writing at the Idaho Statesman says, the line between amateur and professional is pretty easy to blur these days. Zealous Forest Service folks might err on the side of caution, on the side of shutting down even an amateur photographer.

Problem is, wording in the proposed rules are very vague. Read them yourself.

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