U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski from Alaska introduced in the U.S. Senate on February 5 a bill entitled the “Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2015,” which, if passed, will require a $200 per year permit for any crews of five people or fewer conducting commercial filming on public lands and waterways. In addition to the permit, the film crew must notify the applicable management agency for the federal land at least 48 hours before entering the area. The head of that agency may deny access to a film crew if, in addition to other reasons, “the filming includes the use of models or props that are not part of the natural or cultural resources or administrative facilities of the Federal land.”
Fortunately, this permit requirement does not appear to extend to still photography, as the bill defines “film crew” as those “who are associated with the production of a film” and never mentions “cameras” or “photographs.” Unfortunately, the bill does not specify what comprises “commercial filming activities (but includes “similar projects” – whatever that means), “models,” or “props.” Therefore, does a photographer who records video on a DSLR need a permit for recording a harem of elk in the Rocky Mountain National Park if he later intends to license it? Does a hobbyist videographer filming in Lake Clark National Park, who catches nice footage of coastal brown bears that is subsequently licensed, need a permit after the fact? The definitions of models and props have long been subject to interpretation as explained by Jeff Conrad in his earlier guest post. Without the legislature clarifying these parameters, photographers and videographers are at risk if they don’t get the permit, even if not technically needed, as rangers in the field often have their own, and sometimes incorrect, interpretation of the rules.
When a similar issue arose for the September 4, 2014, proposal to revise the Forest Service Handbook, the U.S. Forest Service Chief Thomas Tidwell issued a directive on commercial filming and photography permits that explained:
I also want to emphasize that commercial photography only requires a permit if the photography takes place at locations where members of the public are not allowed, or uses models, sets, or props.
Commercial film and photography permit fees should be primarily viewed as land-use fees. If the activity presents no more impact on the land than that of the general public, then it shall be exempt from permit requirements.
which appears to be a fair position to all. The Outdoor Writers Association of America is understandably troubled by this new bill, especially because it does not offer an exemption for journalists. The OWAA has prepared a position paper on the matter. It has requested that concerned citizens inform their representatives and senators about their views on Section 106 of the Sportsmen’s Act.Check Photo Attorney on Lynda.com, in the Lynda.com Article Center, and on Twitter!