Your First Amendment Rights as a Citizen Journalist

Videomaker – Learn video production and editing, camera reviews Forums Specialty Topics Legal Issues Your First Amendment Rights as a Citizen Journalist

  • This topic has 28 replies, 13 voices, and was last updated 4 years, 1 month ago by Jennifer O’Rourke.
Viewing 28 reply threads
  • Author
    • #49187
      Jennifer O’Rourke

      We decided to create this Legal Issues forums page because many video producers are discussing legalities like copyright and fair use, as well as access. There there are encounters with public officials that can get you arrested!

      Lately, we’ve written several stories and blogs in our magazine and on our website about police and other government authorities in the U.S. trying to keep people from video recording their actions.

      People have been arrested for recording an arrest, excessive force or even a minor traffic violation. Well one man with a camera took his arrest all the way to the top – and a Federal Court says his First Amendment AND Fourth Amendment were violated when he recorded what he felt was an overly aggressive arrest.

      Read about it here, in our blog:

      The man, Simon Glik, saw police using excessive force while arresting a man and whipped out his camera. When one of the officers saw Glik, he told him to stop recording. Glik said that he felt the man was being injured, and the office arrested Glik on a Massachusetts wire-tapping offense, along with a few other offenses. Glik was later released, and a Boston court said he was in his right, but the police took the issue further, and then it went Federal.

      It makes me wonder, Are we supposed to turn away and not get involved when we see someone being abused because “the person in authority said so?” What about a politician who wants to stop someone from the “opposition’s camp” from recording his speech at a fundraiser? I read that this happened recently, even though TV news cameras were there, the opposing party’s citizens were told they couldn’t record the speech.

      This leads to so many other discussions. Julie recently found this very interesting post about police in Long Beach arresting people for photographing public objects “with no apparent esthetic value”.

      Long Beach Police on Lookout for Photos with “No Apparent Esthetic Value”

      They want to control the photos for security purposes, like at military posts, but they really need to come up with a better “excuse” than to call it “no apparent esthetic value.”

      We’ve all seen modern art – what’s treasure to some is trash to others, and, I’m sorry, but my grandmother took thousands of photos all over Europe during her many trips abroad, and most of them have pictures of my grandfather’s legs and torso standing in front of castles but she cut off his head. I’d hate to see that 80-year-old arthritic granny getting arrested for poor camera composition.

      My favorite comment on this story was “Sorry officer, I know I broke the rule of thirds, I just didn’t realize it was an arrestable offense.”

      The “Big Brother Watching” everywhere that George Orwell envisioned in his futuristic novel, “1984” might not have happened in that year, but it certainly is now, but now, citizen journalists are watching back.

    • #201429
      Grinner Hester

      Just because a cop doesn’t like being recorded doesn’t mean it’s against the law. I’m recording anytime I get busted. They are recording me.

      It’s as easy as not being obnoxious with it. I got popped doing 144mph and when the second cop saw and asked about the camera, I just skated over it. Didn’t have to be a big deal.

    • #201430

      You got nine lives Grinner, I’d never have that luck. πŸ™‚

    • #201431

      Hi Jen –

      Did the ruling go into any homeland security issues? I lived in NY when 9/11 happened and almost immediately signs popped up on all bridges and tunnels that forbade any video recording.

      Recently on the forum we had someone asking about airport related video and I have heard of folks getting harassed by the powers-that-be because they were recording planes taking off & landing. Does this address that at all?

    • #201432
      Grinner Hester

      No. Shooting in airports is fine and shooting on a plane only revolves around the no electronics rule during departure and decend. No different than your phone. Even then, flirt with the right attendant and you can bend that rule as well.

    • #201433

      I recently was told about a new law in effect that makes it illegal to film any police officer durring an arrest. Someone was just sentenced to 75 years in jail for posting several videos to youtube at 15 years per video which is insane! I’m not sure if I was misinformed but I believe we have every right to film a police officer if we feel the subject is being wrongfully arrested, or the officer is using excessive force. If we don’t film them, then no one will know how well they are doing their job.

    • #201434

      They’re public servants, paid for by the people and we should not be prevented from reporting, recording or otherwise making record of their public actions. There’s an appreciation for NOT getting in the way of the performance of their duties/responsibilities (I was a newspaper reporter, photo journalist, editor, publisher and owner of newspapers during my 30-year career) and certainly if an aggressive reporter, photographer or video producer does interfere with the process or creates a situation of public endangerment that is going too far. There should NOT be any restrictions or consequences however provided citizens or authorized (or not) journalists keep a proper distance from police or other official action and do not make themselves a part of the incident by interfering.

      So far as videotaping buildings, planes, trains or automobiles, buses or trucks, the Golden Gate Bridge, provided I’ve learned and have adhered to whatever legal requirements for doing so exist, including public safety, I will do so until they beat me over the head with a baton and throw me into a cell. Maybe I can conceal a GoPro and get THAT sequence πŸ˜‰

      As Grinner suggests, there are ways to approach these situations without making it a protest, exhibition of belligerence or overt defiance of law, and sometimes that is sufficient. There are, however, times when officials (law enforcement or otherwise) exceed their roles and responsibilities, over-reacting to an incident or situation and it is OUR responsibility as citizens to hold them accountable, and record or otherwise provide proof when these boundaries are overstepped or abused.

    • #201435
      Grinner Hester

      Troof. Aiming and shooting just aint a crime and it never will be. Interfering with an investigation can get ya shot. I don’t do that. I just roll tape. Sometimes a cop will tell ya to turn it off. Re-aim then keep rolling. Pretty easy stuff. Check out this CHP fella:–fiDGw7NBQ

      He points at me and tells me to turn it off. It was as easy as reacting to his request sos not to elevate the situation. You’d be surprised how far respect goes. A yes sir will buy ya lots of freedom… in the field and in life in general.

      Whatever the case, anytime I get pulled over, you can bet jonny law will be recorded. If a law were placed telling me I could never do that, I’d only add more camera angles. Rolling video is what I do. No law will ever change that. Some laws are rules to many. They are mear suggestions to me.

    • #201436

      US Court of Appeals rules people have right to video cops in public

      story here:

    • #201437

      Grinner, you would be right at home heading west from Dallas Ft. Worth to Cali after midnight. When I was trucking, if you rig could not do triple digits you stayed off the road or get squashed. Good thing I had a large car; the difference being a big truck will do what the company says you can do and a large car will do what you want it to do. I had a Peterbilt and KW that would both to over 100 MPH without breaking a sweat. Went to the shop once and they asked me how fast I had this up to; I said w in Kenworth and they informed me I pegged at 120 MPH. Your little ride is nice but if you are pushing 80,000 pounds and cursing that is a whole new world.

    • #201438

      That last sentence should say cursing, not cursing.

    • #201439

      Damn, auto correct. Cruzing

    • #201440
      Jennifer O’Rourke

      Earl is right, the press do have ‘rules’ they still have to follow, and I’ve witnessed over-enthusiastic reporters or photographers getting too close to the “action” and being told to leave. And, if they are wrong, they usually comply. But, no, Birdcat, it didn’t go into Homeland Security, which is a different issue and can be greatly debated. The problem with things like Homeland Security is it seems some states or municipalities are making their own rules, which is what the Long Beach Police story is about, but they’re not defining the rules well enough. And, like Grinner said, there are cameras watching US everywhere, so our cameras are probably not going to capture anything “anti-terroristic”.

      Still, with the omnipresence of video cameras everywhere – well – public officials need to come to a better understanding of citizens rights.

      I found another story of a woman who was stripped and forced to shower with witnesses then thrown into a cell with other criminals for 18 hours because she attempted to keep footage from a police officer. He seized her camera, and arrested her, without getting a warrant and she was jailed, but he received a 15 day suspension when she was let go. Whose rights were violated? She left the camera rolling during her confrontation with the officer, and it doesn’t sound like she was being belligerent, just refusing to give up her camera.

    • #201441
      Luis Maymi Lopez

      Police using excessive force, violations of civil rights and a bunch of “reporters” recording with their cellphones, posting on Facebook and YouTube about the University of Puerto Rico strike last year was an eye opening event in my country. Dozens of university students were arrested and God knows how many for video taping police brutality. I live all this and it was awful, but like Jennifer O’Rourke mentioned in her post; “Are we supposed to turn away and not get involved when we see someone being abused because “the person in authority said so?”. Here is an awesome documentary from Al Jazeera, Fault Lines – Puerto Rico: The Fiscal Experiment

    • #201442
      Jennifer O’Rourke

      Nicely done.

    • #201443
      Grinner Hester

      The basic rule of thumb when an authority figure says turn off the camera is to acknowledge their request so they don’t keep focusing on ya… and of course keep rolling.

      especially when they say turn it off. I often pan away when they demand it just so they see a response. I’m a vidiot though and knowing when not to stop rolling is has been in me since the early 80s. They can demand, threaten and bluff all they want but we all know a content cue when we hear one.

    • #201444

      A while back I was using surveillance-style shooting to emphasize in a piece I did for gradschool about how the landscape had changed as to who may be watching us after 9/11.

      During the months I shot at night and in public areas I used ‘hides’, disguised myself as a street-person, tourist, business person and so on all the while getting shots all over the city of everyday people doing everyday things. Since I had done such work for the military, I knew the rules and how to shoot and not attract any real notice.

      Of course some kid going to the same university unknown to me tried to do the same thing after I wrapped and got busted by the cops. Afterward, they put up all kinds of warnings about people doing the very thing I had just got finished doing!

      During that shoot I got footage of arrests, illegal drug use, brawls and even a guy cheating on his wife with a much too-young co-ed in addition to people just going about their business.

      That was 8 years ago. The landscape has changed far more drastically with cameras everywhere. In the 80’s everyone was sweating ‘Big Brother’. Now we’re ‘Big Brother’ as this is now a ‘run-tell-it’, snitching society. Grinner does the exact same thing I and any other field shooter does when they say, ‘Turn off the camera!” Just make sure you turn off the ‘record’ light and put some gaffers tape over your power indicator light, point it down or away for a bit and hang it off your shoulder. Eventually, during the heated discussion you’ll ‘happen’ to let the lens ‘wander’ back onto your subject….

      Here’s a link to that old surveillance project of mine:

      Project Alpha

    • #201445
    • #201446

      Thanks for sharing, Pseudo, another interesting read. Thank goodness there’s the threat of far-reaching FB, Twitter and other social sites where such offenses can be exposed. Funny how quickly “the establishment” will back off, change policy or apologize now with the threat of being exposed in a broad public forum.

    • #201447

      Yeah, I’m not surprised by that. I got the impression that someone saw a mature man with a little girl taking pictures and thought he might be a pedo so they snitched without any thought it might be his kid.

      We are in an ‘overreactive’ society now. On the one hand I’m glad there were people keeping an eye out because sometimes things may be amiss. On the other, few people seem to take that extra moment to properly observe and ascertain the situation.

      Draconian rules are easy to implement but become difficult to enforce when you start throwing that ‘logic’ stuff into the mix. Though privately owned, a Mall is still a ‘public space’ and therefore a rule like ‘absolutely no picture taking’ under the auspices of protecting from terrorism is ridiculous. If terrorists want to do photo recon on your mall, they’ll do it.

    • #201448

      Sort of off topic, but maybe relevant as it concerns law enforcement and citizen knee jerks πŸ˜‰ My company was hired to do a multiple camera production at a local grade school … an annual performance to be followed by an awards program.

      The principal, activities director, music director and PTA prez were all aware of the arrangement. They were also told, and the principal suggested and we agreed, that early arrival was best due to parking conditions and the desired proximity to the auditorium entrance.

      We arrived well in advance … actually only about an hour early. But that didn’t keep SOMEBODY from notifying the local police department who startled me and my associate out of our wits as three, THREE, units with lights blazing and sirens blaring entrapped us at our premium parking spot.

      I was pretty calm about it at the time, but those guys … you would have thought they’d caught a gang preparing to dynamite their way into the auditorium. I’m totally serious, screeching brakes, doors flung open, guns drawn and somebody who got a loud speaker for Christmas yelling to exit the vehicle with hands in the air. My associate nearly had cardiac arrest. I actually chuckled as I was getting out, grinning like a stupid red neck (I’m not saying ALL red necks are stupid, I’m saying I GRINNED like a stupid one). I had my video producer I.D. card on a lanyard in my hand, up in the air. They holstered and approached, still gingerly, then left with an air of embarrassment and mostly arrogance, advising that we should have “notified” somebody we’d be there early.

      I only wish I’d had presence of mind to step out with camera rolling, but it’s unlikely my associate would have had the other rolling to catch me committing suicide by cop.

    • #201449

      Earl, can you post an example of your video producer I.D. card or where you got it? Might be a good idea to have one.

    • #201450
      Jennifer O’Rourke

      Earl, also off topic, but your story reminded me of an incident while covering a visiting President. We were a three man crew: me [the shooter], a reporter, and the guy running the live van. Moments before we went live, I discovered the juice in my camera battery was getting low, and afraid it would die while on live TV, I radioed the live van for a spare.

      The van was quite a distance from where the live shot was set up, so the live van op grabbed a couple large 5-celled bats – one in each hand – and ran through the crowd to deliver them. As he ran, two black-suited men wearing sunglasses and earpieces flanked him, running alongside, and one of them said, “Son, it’s not a good idea to be running towards the President carrying those devices… we suggest you stop right now.”

      You don’t mess with the Secret Service!

      He walked the rest of the way, with them in escort, and they stayed by my side for the entire live shot.

    • #201451

      Enjoyed the story, Jennifer. So many experiences during our journalistic and ENG careers, huh?

      Charles, I’ll get an image of what I use up ASAP to share with you and any others. Essentially, I purchase various pin, lanyard, and clip-on pouches at Staples and similar stores, created a card in Photoshop for the front with photo and info related to the event I’m shooting (usually says “Official NAME OF THE EVENT Videographer) my name & company name. In the backside I slip in one of my business cards, several actually as this is a convenient place to get one when somebody asks.

    • #201452

      Ha! I’ve got one of those.

      My very first gig as a Combat Cameraman was the arrival of President Clinton for the ’96 Debate. AF 1 landed at our base and my supervisor and me went out to shoot the meet and greet as the President went down the receiving line. Though we were in uniform complete with ID’s and carrying cameras the Secret Service swarmed on us immediately. Fortunately, the President’s detail was staffed with former Cameramen from our unit who just laughed and called the SS off. One second it looked like we were going to end up on the tarmac and the next you’d have thought it was a Combat Camera reunion! Needless to say, it was a memorable first gig.

    • #201453

      Hello Charles. Rather than further hijacking this post and upsetting the editor, maybe πŸ˜‰ I’ll just say to visit my blog to get the info on I.D. tags. Thanks for the idea and suggestion.

    • #201454

      OK Guys (and Gals),

      I have a rather unique look at this issue, seeing as I was a stringer as well as worked EMS as a Paramedic. I am all for people having rights to record, I am also all for the media being able to record stuff too. But, I believe things need to be done responsibly and that is not always the case. Also who do you consider a citizen journalist, anyone with a camera? If you see something and you’re discrete in videotaping or getting off a snap, fine, but don’t make it so obvious that the person being arrested’s family is gonna come running up on you and try to nail you. Don’t get in the way either. Do you know how many times I’ve had people actually try to get in my ambulance to try and get a picture of the patient i’m working on? I’ll tell you it was quite a few times. So where’s the common sense there? Also put yourself in this position, would you want me, as a medic to allow someone to take photos or video of your mom, your son, or your brother or better yet you if you’ve been in a wreck or shot or stabbed or something? I said this on another site and I’ll say it here, you want to take video, pictures whatever, as long as you are not placing me, my patient or anyone else on scene in danger as well as not identifying my patient, Fine so be it, but as soon as you cross the line being stupid, you need to go to jail, directly to jail, do not pass go do not collect $200.00. simple as that. In other words use common sense out there. Some people shouldn’t be in EMS and on the same token some shouldn’t be allowed cameras, that’s all I’m saying. I will say this too. That one dope that gets in the way, or interferes, etc makes it that much harder for the next one of you to do your job. Oh and PS – I forgot to mention, I am also a grad of CT School of Broadcasting here in Stratford, CT and worked the desk for a period at News 12 Norwalk

    • #201455

      My best answers for your questions, Joe:

      Yes, I consider anyone with a camera a citizen journalist. We all enjoy First Amendment rights in the USA to publish information about matters of public concern. not just those who work in fancy offices. The Zapruder film and the Rodney King beating are two famous examples, both shot by amateurs. I have seen amateur video make quite a difference in local cases, too. It doesn’t require you to own a “press,” especially in this day and age where people can publish any number of ways.

      As for me, if I was unfortunate enough to be in an ambulance, I’d want someone as concerned with doing a good job as you are there to help me. And when I got better, I still want to live in a country where people can video what they choose to video–if that means filming me at my poorest moment, so be it.

      That being said, I don’t think anyone on this forum would suggest that we ought to be able to interfere with your work or that of anyone else. Just document it. There are laws against interfering with public officers. I have no problem with that. But we can’t confuse documenting something with interfering with it.

      This is a big part of living in a free country. These films are a big check and balance, especially when it comes to seeing how the police do their jobs. If the tape shows the police doing their jobs, which they do most of the time, then there’s nothing but good news to report via Facebook or YouTube. If, on the other hand, the police are out of line, the video can show that, too, and you can end up making a difference. Both the Zapruder film and the Rodney King film ended up affecting history.

      This is a timely discussion. There’s a whole debate going on in Illinois these days about laws police are using to circumvent First Amendment rights. Here’s an interesting read:

    • #201456

      Grinner – I just watched the video you posted 6 months ago Busted at 144 – DUDE!!!!!!!!!!!!! Been there done that – busted coming from the track in a Dodge 2500 tricked out Cummins. Didn’t go to jail but had to go back to the track and give the LEO a ride down the track – LOL! No kidding and he still gave me a ticket that I had to go to court on. The best part of the whole deal is the LEO didn’t show in court and the judge dismissed the case (only after he gave me an ear full on the evils of street racing). Now in FL anything over 15 mph above the speed limit can get you thrown in jail for speeding and street racing and the street racing is considered a felony. BUT MAN THAT TRUCK WAS FAST.

      Back to the topic – my nephew is a LEO and i asked him about this. the reason he gave as to why LEO’s prefer you do not film in certain situations is that if there are individuals who may have been hurt they don’t want your film making it to the airwaves before the respective families have been notified. And in other cases it also has to do with detail information making it out to the public before an investigation is even started. My nephew stated he and his fellow deputies know that it is not illegal for someone to be filming but….we should all know that they can make for a very difficult time for the one filming. He stated he can take you in on probable cause if you are at the scene – even knowing you will be released at the station but your camera can end up being held as evidence regardless. So keep in mind that yes we have First Amendment rights but sometimes just as Grinner did in his film we need to be cognizant of the LEO’s job and how we maymight be interfering with their ability to do that job.

      As for me I really think this is a very slippery slope that may get worse before it gets better. I believe we have the right to film, photograph and or report on anything that happens in public that effects the public. But, I do draw a personal line when it infringes on an individuals right to privacy.

      Grinner – you still running that Dodge? I had to get rid of my 2500.

Viewing 28 reply threads
  • The forum ‘Legal Issues’ is closed to new topics and replies.

Best Products

The best royalty-free music and sound effects sites – 2021

Music and sound effects are a crucial part of any film or video project. Using royalty-free stock music in your next project is one way to cut costs without sacrificing quality.

Need help making a stellar first video?


Download our free eBook with 8 tips to get on the right track and create a video that you can be proud of.



Given away to one lucky winner

Competition is open worldwide