Home / Insights / Court: Fees and Permits for Commercial Filming at National Parks Are Reasonable Under First Amendment

Court: Fees and Permits for Commercial Filming at National Parks Are Reasonable Under First Amendment

by | Aug 16, 2023 | First Amendment, Media Law, Uncategorized

What happened to the commercial filmmaker who filmed at a national park without first obtaining a permit? He claimed the need to pay a fee and obtain a permit violated the First Amendment. The trial court ruled in his favor. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit reversed, upholding the permit requirement as reasonable.

The case involved director Gordy Price who was filming for the movie titled Crawford Road.  Price was cited with a misdemeanor by the National Parks Service after the film was released containing its unpermitted footage. The charge was dropped but he sued to overturn the permit policy.

Isn’t a commercial film one form of expressive speech protected by the First Amendment? Maybe. Isn’t it the same as filming at a national park for a news story.  Not so much. The court of appeals found that requiring a permit was consistent with the federal government’s policy of receiving fair market value for the use of federal lands. The court was careful to note that the permit and fee requirements would not apply to newsgathering. “Considering the centrality of the unimpeded functioning of the news media to the health of the Republic, an exception for ‘news-gathering’ is certainly reasonable.”

The court found that if somebody profits from a video taken at a National Park – even a few dollars from YouTube – then a commercial permit is rationally related to the policy of obtaining fair market value for use of public lands. And the filmmaker – hiker, amateur, professional, journalist, or corporate – can receive a citation and criminal charges.

A dissenting judge noted because of the majority’s decision, the fear of prosecution would chill creation of expressive media at national sites.

Read the opinion and let me know what you think. 21-5073-1960362.pdf (uscourts.gov)

I represent news media, bloggers, publishers, filmmakers, and citizens interested in government access, and others who operate under the First Amendment—seeking public records and access to public meetings; newsgathering; avoiding defamation lawsuits; suing Anti-SLAPP violators. My job is to help you get the records and access you need, help you get the story, help you get the story without getting arrested, help get the story published without defaming anyone, and then defend the story after publication.

If you need help with any of these areas and don’t have an attorney already, contact me: [email protected]. This post is not intended to be legal advice and does not form the basis of a lawyer-client relationship.


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