The headline above is inspired by a joke by Stephen Wright.
So, while trawling Facebook, I came upon this article below:
Arkansas Senate Passes Bill to Make Street Photography Illegal in State
by Zach Sutton
(Originally posted March 29, 2015 —jb)
Over the past week, Arkansas Senate has been working diligently to pass SB-79 - known as the Personal Rights Protection Act. While the bill is designed to protect the privacy and rights of the citizens within the state, it also effectively makes Street Photography illegal from viewing or taking in the state of Arkansas.
The bill’s full name does a lot as to explaining the bill. Entitled “To Enact the Personal Rights Protection Act: and to Protect the Property Rights of an Individual to the Use of the Individual’s Name, Voice, Signature, and Likeness”, this bill is designed to take an individual’s Rights of Publicity to an extreme, by allowing it illegal for them to be photographed or filmed on public grounds without a written consent.
My initial thought, especially with Arkansas’ recent bill rivalling Indiana in allowing private businesses to discriminate on religious grounds, convinced me absolutely that I should never set foot in Arkansas, ever. This seems to be a crazy state, where the welcome mat is yanked out from the feet of people who look or act funny, and where taking photographs in public spaces could get you sued. Note that I’m coming at this from a railfan photographer’s perspective. I’ve heard too many tales of such people being harassed simply for taking pictures on a public street. This is an assault on freedom. And while reading deeper into the bill, I can see that some elements have their hearts in the right places, the bill is so broadly worded that it’s understandable why the American Society of Media Photographers is having an apoplectic fit:
The implications of this bill are staggering. For example, an image showing recognizable people posted to the Internet for a use that would not require written consent anywhere else in the world could leave you open to a lawsuit just because someone in Arkansas could view it online.
SB-79 places an unprecedented burden on all photographers whose work could be viewed within the state of Arkansas to either get explicit consent from every individual whose likeness appears in all of their photographs or risk defending themselves in a lawsuit where they will have to shoulder the burden of proving the use of their photographs qualifies as an exempted use.
But one of the most useful features of Facebook these days are its links to related articles. Just as I was about to write something terse and angry in response to what I’d read, one of the related articles beneath it said something almost completely opposite about Arkansas:
Arkansas To Be First State in The Nation to Protect Photographers’ Rights
March 30, 2015 Dan Greenberg
Arkansas is poised to be the first state in the Union to establish a statutory right to take photographs in public. Given the increasing prevalence and use of smart phones (with videorecording capability) in American life, this issue’s importance continues to grow. Earlier today, the state House passed the final version of HB 1669 (which had previously been passed by the state Senate), sending it to Governor Hutchinson’s desk for his signature. State Rep. Richard Womack sponsored the measure and worked with Advance Arkansas Institute staff to pass the bill; the policy was originally proposed in our Action Plan for Arkansas.
The right to take photographs (and, more specifically, the right to record public officials as they perform their official duties) is a right that - as a theoretical matter - many believe already to exist (given that such a right is regularly recognized by federal appellate courts, as in, for instance, the First, Seventh, Ninth, and Eleventh Circuits); regrettably, others will view the legislative recognition of that right as trivial or unimportant. Nonetheless, it is a fact that government actors regularly seize smart phones and attempt to destroy the records in them, even without suspicion of a crime. Such seizure typically occurs when smart phones are used to document bad behavior by government actors.
This is a separate bill (seen here), and it specifically enshrines the rights of individuals to take photographs on public lands, especially if they are recording government officials, like police officers, abusing their duties.
This would seem to absolutely counter the potential consequences of the first act. “Are you photographing me? Do you have my permission?” / “Well, I’m on a public street, and you’re beating on this man who is on the ground and handcuffed, so I don’t need your permission.”
Neither article mentions the other bill, so I’m left utterly confused. Is public photography in Arkansas legal or not? Do I have to get permission to take pictures or not? What happens when these two bills butt heads in Arkansas’ streets?
Update: April 1, 9:45 p.m. - According to this website, the governor of Arkansas has agreed to veto Bill SB-79 — the one making photography illegal in Arkansas — citing public outcry and saying:
In its current form, the bill unnecessarily restricts free expression and thus could have a chilling effect on freedom of speech and freedom of the press. In addition, SB79 exempts certain types of noncommercial speech while failing to exempt other forms of noncommercial speech. The absence of these exemptions could result in unnecessary litigation and suppress Arkansans who engage in artistic expression.