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After months of protest, the New York Civil Liberties Union and filmmakers have convinced the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting to revise proposed rules requiring the use of a permit for people filming or taking photographs for just a few minutes.
The city will essentially start over, redrafting a permit proposal it quietly introduced on the film office’s Web site on May 25 in response to a settled lawsuit brought by the NYCLU. The initial rules included provisions requiring permits for as few as two people filming with a handheld camera for a half-hour, or more than five people filming with a tripod for as little as 10 minutes.
The April settlement of the lawsuit, filed on behalf of documentary filmmaker Rakesh Sharma after he was detained by police for handheld video camera filming, required the city to create rules defining when people need permits for the first time in history. “We filed the lawsuit because there had been arbitrary, discriminatory and uneven enforcement” of permit requirements, said executive director Donna Lieberman. The 30-day comment period after the May 25 posting was extended to this past Friday after an outcry at the June 28 hearing that not enough people were made aware of the proposed rules.
The city had three options: to make its proposed rules final; incorporate changes and make the rules final; or redraft the proposal and start the comment period over again. MOFTB commissioner Katherine Oliver announced the latter choice Friday after a series of organized protests and public outcry over the past few weeks over First Amendment issues.
Her office cited a goal to “maintain a safe environment for the public, while balancing the needs of filmmakers whose work may have a significant impact on pedestrian or vehicular use of public space.” Associate commissioner Julianne Cho could not give an estimate on the amount of time her office would need to redraft the proposal.
“The city has reached out to the NYCLU indicating it wants to work with us, and we’re happy to work with them,” Lieberman said after a Friday press conference. Both sides have expressed intentions to create rules that don’t obstruct city pedestrian traffic, but Lieberman added that “if the rules don’t protect people’s right to take photographs, we won’t hesitate to file a lawsuit.”
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