Atlanta Has Outlawed Photography

The City of Atlanta thinks that shooting street photography is a crime.

I don’t know about you, but sidewalk photographers should be the least of government worries. There is also an itsy bitsy thing called the U.S. Constitution. They should look it up.

I wonder if there is commercial protectionism in this? After all, are police going to cite every person snapping selfies with an iPhone? I doubt it. All the “Filmed in Georgia” still photographers don’t have much to worry about, either.

Perhaps only properly “credentialed” photographers can shoot on Atlanta’s illustrious sidewalks. Yay for “professionals”! But who knows? It’s a stupid law.

“Yes, officer. I’m just an Instagram photographer.”

Unless Facebook/IG actually starts paying their photographers some of those billions they now make off free labor. But that would be bad, or something, says Atlanta.

This is shocking coming from a region that routinely declares its pro-business and anti-regulation street cred. On the other hand it’s not surprising, is it? 

By the way, this law apparently prohibits editorial use, too. If Atlanta police went aggro on protesters down there, you would be a criminal for photographing it “without permission” of every business and person in the photo.

Never mind that model and property releases, for commercial use, has always been a private agreement and suitable way for handling this sort of issue.

But we all know that getting signatures for everyone and everything is damn near impossible sometimes, and often times impractical, particularly for a photo of large scope in public. Also, this is America. Not Moscow.

Many photos in the previous century, a major part of our history and culture, would not have seen the light of day if Atlanta’s new ordinance had been the national legal standard.

What a pathetic excuse for governance. High-tech dark ages. 

NOI, Copyright Office, and Photographer Culture

Recently ASMP delivered an NOI to the U.S. Copyright Office detailing how best the office can both modernize and help photographers going forward. Here is ASMP’s full response (ASMP has removed this page) and here is the summary version (ASMP has removed this page).

Edit update 12/29/2020: I was quoted on page 15 of ASMP’s response, but the links are now broken and the web page no longer is available. IIRC I basically wrote that technology now exists to make the copyright registration process smoother and more affordable for photographers. And in cases of true commercial infringement, a source for creators to help prove ownership. If I showed any modicum of support for a small claims tribunal, it was likely muted and is now regrettable, and was mild in comparison to what the CASE Act is.

In addition to the five questions ASMP asked its members as part of the NOI, I wrote a letter to the ASMP committee that focused more on culture and mindset.



In addition to the five question answers I recently submitted, I’d like to make an additional comment on ASMP and photography’s moral position.

I think it’s important that we not come off publicly as being copyright extremists. I think a sensible and moderate position is a good one to take, because we want a majority of the mainstream to be supportive of us.

In digital culture today, two polar opposite positions have risen. On one side is the Pirate Party types. The sort of people who say, “Down with copyright! Share! Mix! Copy! And do so without a care!”. They have their esoteric reasons for being this way, whether it is faux anarchist-libertarian or a bizarre sort of digital Maoism. Some are just cheap and like to get stuff without paying out-of-pocket. Offline, some might call them shoplifters or looters.

On the other side is RIAA and MPAA lawyers or patent trolls. The sorts who will sue a grandmother and her granddaughter for copying pop songs, or who will try to ram through something draconian like SOPA. All they do is alienate people and play into the hands of the Pirate Party crowd (and Big Tracking Data interests, e.g. Google, Facebook, et al… ).

What’s missing in the discussion is a sensible middle ground. One that represents not just the legal principle and rights of individual creators, but also the moral center. A holistic view that mirrors true community and middle class values, liberal-independent-conservative.

These extremes have made life difficult for the independent artist and photographer. However, with two clear extremes we now know where the middle is.

Are we for mindless “sharing economy”, which is just really grab and go devaluation of photography? No, we’re not. At least I hope the multitude of us are not.

Edit 12/29/2020: Sharing is great. Communities will benefit tremendously from a true P2P economy. I was referring to faux P2P sharing promoted by Silicon Valley.

On the other hand, are we out to ruin a person’s life, bankrupt people, or “kill the Internet”? I’d like to think that in most cases of infringement, unless it’s truly egregious, that we’re not looking to be regarded as blood thirsty litigants or “Luddites” out for deadly revenge.

Fair compensation so we can make an honest living, respect, and equal footing in the marketplace (this includes digital “sharing culture”) is what we’re working for. It’s important that we frame this part of the public dialogue.

Perhaps that seems old-fashioned. But I see no sustainable future for us if we adopt either of the extremes.

I hope my answers to the five questions in a previous email and this comment helps you. You’re doing publicly thankless but heroic work on this, and I humbly thank you.

Many Regards,

Paul Ottaviano

P.S. — I think it’s also important this not be seen as something that only benefits the “Professional Photographer” or commercial studio photographer. Anything that conjures up feelings and images of stuck up exclusivity is self-defeating.

In my opinion, in addition to ASMP member interests, we should also be advocates for fine art photographers, students, and serious amateurs regardless of their age, years in the business, popularity, or commercial success. At the end of the day, it’s about photography and its future.


Thomas Kennedy, Executive Director of ASMP, wrote a thoughtful letter in reply agreeing with me on several points and thanking me graciously for my support.

It is people like him who deserve many thanks. I haven’t been in the photography business long, but I can tell that for people on the association boards it’s often a thankless job. Going to Washington D.C. takes guts and perseverance.

Regardless of how you feel about things personally and whether you agree with every sentiment or point made in the NOI, folks like Tom are trying to make a positive difference for photography.

If you ever happen to meet one of these people, by all means buy them a drink.