A victory for civil rights and photographers.

April 2, 2015

An editorial by Rob Alway. Editor-in-Chief.

While a lot of spotlight in the media and social media has been placed on recent legislation in Indiana, many people have missed a topic in Arkansas that could have rocked our civil rights to the core.

Arkansas’ SB79 would have restricted the photographing and videoing of people in public places without their permission, a clear violation of the First Amendment. This was not just a law that would have impacted professional photographers but would have impacted anyone who takes a photograph in a public place and posts that image on social media. Basically, according to the wording of the proposed law, if a person happens to be in the background of an image and their picture appears on social media without their permission, they would have had the right to sue.

There is a generally accepted legal interpretation of the First Amendment that when a person is in a public place, or a place that is frequented by the public, there is a general understanding that they have forgone their right to privacy and therefore have allowed themselves to be publicized. The main exception is in the case of commercial use of a person’s image or property, then typically waivers have to be signed because the user is profiting off of the image.

Before the day and age of social media, this was basically an issue that concerned primarily the media, especially photojournalists. Matters that are newsworthy are generally seen as public domain.

The proposed law in Arkansas would have restricted photography and videography, including photographing breaking news in public places. It would have restricted photographing with cell phones and posting on social media, by anyone.

Many professional photographers and professional photographer organizations lobbied against this law and it was defeated today.

This could have set a trend across the nation, such as the law in Indiana may do. Though I’m not a lawyer, I believe the high courts would have ultimately shut it down because state laws do not trump the federal Constitution, especially our sacred Bill of Rights. But, be thankful, my fellow Americans., one small (or perhaps large) victory for our civil rights.