August 4, 2007--Responding to an outcry that included a passionate Internet campaign and a satiric rap video, city officials yesterday backed off proposed new rules that could have forced tourists taking snapshots in Times Square and filmmakers capturing that only-in-New-York street scene to obtain permits and $1 million in liability insurance.
In announcing the move, officials at the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting said they would redraft the rules, intended to apply to commercial film and photography productions, to address complaints that they could be too broadly applied. They will then release the revised rules for public comment.
“It appears that the mayor’s office on film has come to their senses,” said Eileen Clancy, a member of a group formed to protest the rules. “Clearly, they did not anticipate the way in which the rules were likely to affect so many different groups of people.”
Katherine Oliver, the film office commissioner, said in a statement, “We appreciate the feedback and collaboration of the production community in the city and look forward to revising our proposal.” The proposed rules would have required any group of two or more people using a camera in a public location for more than half an hour, and any group of five or more people using a tripod for more than 10 minutes, to get a permit and insurance. Press photographers and students would not be affected, officials said.
Officials at the mayor’s film office originally agreed to write the rules as part of a settlement in April of a lawsuit brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Rakesh Sharma, a documentary filmmaker who was detained by the police in 2005 after using a hand-held video camera in Midtown. Told that he was required to have a permit to film on city property, Mr. Sharma later pursued one and discovered that there were no written guidelines on how permits were granted, according to the lawsuit.
City officials at first staunchly defended the draft regulations when they were released for comment in May, saying that they were intended to set standards for professionals and that there were few if any instances in which casual photographers or filmmakers would be affected.
But criticism mounted over the months, with opponents arguing that all manner of unobtrusive visual recording would be unfairly, and even unconstitutionally, restricted.
“If I joined a small group of bird-watchers, I would only be able to photograph a bird for less than 10 minutes under the proposed regulation changes,” D. Bruce Yolton, a photographer who studies and chronicles red-tailed hawks on his blog, urbanhawks.blogs.com, wrote to the film office. “Due to the random nature of birding photography, the bird would be gone before a permit could be issued.”
One group of opponents, a comedy troupe called Olde English, created a hip-hop video that its members submitted as public comment to the film office and sent to the civil liberties union, which posted it on its Web site.
“Proposin’ new rules to try to get rid of me/A million in insurance just to cover liabilities!/From Little Italy all the way to Harlem/Bloomberg’s jealous ’cause our movies won’t star him,” the group raps in the video, shot in several outdoor locations that would require a permit under the proposed rules.
David Segal, a member of the group, said they had been making videos together since they were students at Bard College and were now doing so professionally, on a “very low budget.”
“And that only came after making hundreds of videos with no budget,” he said. “We know that ourselves, we wouldn’t be able to do it had we not been able to film before these rules started getting talked about.”
The city’s withdrawal represents a victory for a hastily formed advocacy group called Picture New York, which gathered more than 31,000 signatures for an online petition protesting the rules.
“We have everyone from actually extraordinarily famous fine-art photographers and filmmakers signing the petition to one man who identified himself as a garbageman and a band photographer,” Ms. Clancy, a member of the group and a video analyst who monitors police conduct, said at a news conference yesterday.