Vermont bill could make photography without permission illegal [updated]
posted Friday, April 12, 2013 at 1:06 PM EST
(Update: Not as bad as it sounds, see the update at the bottom of the article) A controversial new bill is up before the Vermont legislature, and while there's an awful lot we don't know about it, at this early stage it looks like it might heavily curtail the rights of photographers. Currently, photographers are free to snap images of anyone in a public space, as there's no inherent expectation of privacy while walking down the road. This new proposal, however, would force you to seek permission from each and every person that appears in your image.
The bill, shown at the bottom of this post, is currently only just past its first reading, so is a long way from becoming anything close to law, but it's exactly at this early point that it's worth contacting your local legislator, if you're a Vermonter and concerned about the possibilities that this law suggests. The bill was proposed by Betty Nuovo, and the publicly readable section of the bill simply says:
"An act relating to making it illegal to take a photograph of a person without his or her consent, or to modify a photograph of a person without his or her consent, and to distribute it"
Since it's so early in the process, and we know so little, we have to be careful about how to interpret this single sentence description. At first glance, it seems to suggest that if passed, it would require photographers to gather permission to photograph people, to modify said photographs, or to distribute the images. But as one person pointed out, the "and" in the sentence could also mean that it's only illegal to shoot/edit photos of people if you intend to distribute them. So images for your own use might not be a problem.
Regardless of which interpretation, this would seem to make life incredibly difficult for street photographers, concert photographers, and anyone who does more than a little shooting outdoors. And there's no mention if this would also apply to traffic or security cameras. And what about situations where a bystander is able to capture important news footage with a phone? Should they ask permission from everyone else on the scene?
But keep in mind that when a New Hampshire bill was drafted that could have massively curtailed the right for aerial photography it was hastily rewritten once it came publicly to light. Hopefully some increased attention will mean that either this bill never makes it particularly far, or goes through some significant scrutiny along the way.
UPDATE: Over at PopPhoto, new information has come to light about the proposal. A source close to the bill called it "unnofficially dead", and Rep Nuovo herself chimed in on the discussion. Apparently the bill was not proposed directly by her, but is rather "by request", meaning it was requested by a consituent — and not something she herself supports. She said
"This bill, H-233, is BY REQUEST it states it right on the bill, look it up under the Vermont Legislature. What that means is that it is not my bill, it is a bill REQUESTED by a constituent who really wanted it so it is a constituents bill, every Vermont Legislator knows this. I do not believe in it but legislators do put in bills that are REQUESTED. This bill is not going to be taken up by the Legislature. Rep. Betty Nuovo"
So we wouldn't worry too much about this folks. This was a legislator chasing up something at the request of a constituent, and it seems as if it's more or less dead in the water.