thisisbossi PRO 1:57am, 25 October 2011
Local reporter Mike DeBonis uncovered some interesting bits:

Specifically for photographers, check out 24-521 through 24-523:

The gist- if you do photography in DC for profit or personal gain: you're required to have a license and abide a whole slew of rather Draconian measures. Otherwise you can face fines or even getting arrested for a misdemeanor.

Now in all fairness, the law appears to date to the 80's -- well before the time where cameras of many varieties became ubiquitous and essentially rendered obsolete the vendor-style street photographer. Now there are just wedding photos and Flickr users. So basically I think it made *some* sense 30 years ago and I can see its intent; but is dearly in need of some updating.

Some thoughts as I read through the law's trio of sections:

- 24-521: Good thing I license almost everything under Creative Commons and shoot photos for my own personal entertainment! Or does "gain" include fun? The definitions in 24-599 do not define profit or gain. If I give away my photos at no cost but someone offers to pay me for them, anyway, does that still qualify? Seems more like a tip; and there's nothing in here that refers to receiving tips... and seeing as laws prohibit citizen activities (as opposed to permitting government activities), then the lack of any reference to tipping can only be assumed that it's A-OK?

- ...And how does an officer know whether I'm going to sell them or not? Almost every day I'm out doing photos I get to talking with at least one person who seems astounded I just share them for free.

- Can licenses be applied retroactively? If I decide I want to sell photos for profit or gain, can I get the $25 license (or possibly $26- looks like the application fee is $25 and the license might be $1) and be able to sell past photos? Or does it only apply to photos I take from then on?

- I like how 24-523.2 outlaws artistic effects of blurring and focus. If bokeh shines into the edge of a portrait, framing the subject's face with a glowing radiance... we can be arrested for that?

- 24-523.3 states that licensed photographers can only remain at a location for up to 5 minutes. Seems like it outlaws wedding photos, which take 5 minutes simply for the bride's dress to get oriented. Seems like it outlaws photojournalists, too. But it doesn't say how far until at a new location: a mile? a block? a meter? a micron? Could I make a case that the rapid motions of each molecule in my body has me quivvering across a whole swatch of tiny locations with every passing moment? Or perhaps even say that thanks to Schrödinger: I'm already in another place? (I would *love* to play the quantum physics card in a courtroom)
torgeaux PRO 5 years ago
Street Photography, as defined therein, is someone who solicits people to take their photo for a fee. The rules, on their face, without interpretation, apply only to photographs of people. "No person, firm, or corporation shall engage in the business of taking photographs of any person or persons," so taking a picture of a building, landscape, location is not covered by these sections.

Additionally, with just a tiny bit of interpretation, they don't cover artistic photography, even if done for a profit. Since this is aimed, as you note, at the old style, hand out a card, take a picture, send picture/hand picture to recipient, it's easy for a cop to see if you fit that definition.
thisisbossi PRO 5 years ago
Agreed- it's all quite a stretch with many of my doom-thoughts and I've always had tremendous fortune with officers- but good to keep in mind, nonetheless, just in case!
torgeaux PRO 5 years ago
Washington Post followed up on this, and got the following clarification:

”Our policy has been that the street photographer license would apply to persons who are stationed on public space to take photos of passersby,” said agency spokesman Helder Gil in an e-mail. Amateurs aren’t covered, he said, nor are “journalists, professional photographers who take pictures of buildings/scenery, or wedding photographers taking pics of happy couples on D.C. streets and sidewalks.”

So as long as you don’t make a living hustling tourists for snapshots, you can snap away without keeping an eye on your watch.
thisisbossi PRO 5 years ago
The subject is getting a bit more coverage! This time with the National Press Photographers Association weighing in:
SteelToad 5 years ago
”Our policy has been that the street photographer license would apply to ..."

Therein lies the heart of the problem. You have a 'law', but then you have a 'policy' as to when to enforce it. It gives law enforcement too much power to restrict rights on a whim.
maisa_nyc PRO 5 years ago

This was one of my main objections to even the "modified" regulations put in place by the NYC Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting.

Initially, it was a huge power grab by a city agency, which then had to retreat in the face of a very vocal popular resistance. However, as part of their reduced regulations, they retained a "voluntary" permit that anyone could apply for at the MOFTB, if they "wanted to".

IMO, this gives this bureaucracy the illusion of authority over something they should have zero authority over. Unfortunately, I'm sure that a lot of tourists fall for this trap, and at some future date, the future "commissioner" will cite statistics of voluntary licenses issued as justification and evidence of their authority.
thisisbossi PRO 5 years ago
Latest update! DC's Attorney General responds:
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