06/10/07 61 W - + 17 - 16 Newshounds

Today's News & Observer profiles a pair of freelance news photographers, Carter Rabil and Julian Harrison. They're familiar fixtures. How is what they do different from what Lee and Mike do? Two things immediately come to mind. We neither sell what we shoot, nor provide what we shoot to news outlets. And only one of us sleeps with the scanner on.

Should people make money selling incident photos, you ask? That is, make money as a consequence of a tragedy? Good question. There is a lot of money that is made after, say, a car wreck. Doctors, lawyers, body shops, medical suppliers, insurance providers, the people that repair the highway markings, etc. But those are different, right? Motivation behind the money-making, number of steps removed from the initial tragedy, type and scope of services provided, etc. So should people make money after a tragedy, period? At a higher level, money is just one of things that can be gained as a consequence of a tragedy. There are also immaterial gains. Responders, for example, gain great emotional reward in the successful performance of their roles and duties. Is that wrong? Obviously, without any gain at any level, there would be no motivation. And without any motivation, there would be no responders (or other service providers). I welcome discussion, debate, and different perspectives.
Legeros - 06/11/07 - 08:08

Should people take incident photos, you ask? Doesn’t that violate the privacy of victims? Legally, in the United States, as I understand it, the highest courts have always ruled that there is no expectation of privacy “in public.” With regard to photos, that means that there are (or rarely are) legal objections to taking pictures of anything that happens to anyone within public view. Now, selling such photos is another matter entirely. If people are pictured, those people have to consent to the sale UNLESS it meets particular criteria, such as a newsworthy event. That’s the legal perspective. Ethically, should such pictures be taken? I welcome discussion on that front.
Legeros - 06/11/07 - 08:13

I don’t see anything wrong with selling the pictures to the media. Everyone always wants to know about the tragedies that happen. If everything was rosy and happy (on the news) I doubt anyone would continue to watch it. Just look at what they consider “Breaking News..” The more action (mainly police action) or death/destruction involved, the more I believe the media will take the story and run with it.

[soap box time]Take for example, a high school kid here in Charlotte that killed two people on I-485 in February 2006. He was a senior at MPHS, got drunk at a party, and got on to I-485 going eastbound in the westbound lanes. This was during a strange time period when there were numerous wrongway accidents on the Interstates around the city. HOWEVER, because this guy was a Myers Park student and he drove drunk and killed a couple, I’d be willing to bet I’ve heard the news reference back to this story at least 15-20 times. Without failure, every time there is a significant wreck on I-485, a drunk driving accident on any Interstate, or some other wreck involving someone from Myers Park HS, you can count on the news saying, “Now some of you might remember the Myers Park senior who killed two people on I-485 when he traveled the wrong way…..” This story is filled with tragedy, but dang… let it rest and let the families try to recover without fearing being reminded about what their loved on did every time they turn on the TV. [sorry, off my soap box now..]

No one else seems to care that they are “profiting” off of a tragedy, ambulance bills, traffic tickets related to the accident, ER bills, etc.
Luke - 06/11/07 - 11:39

What about the legalities of photographing a crime scene? Wreck are technically a crime scene under investigation once the police get there. I was working a pretty serious wreck the other day involving a landscaping truck hauling a bobcat. The owner of the company wanted to take pictures of the wreck for whatever purpose. I had to tell him he needed to clear it with NCSHP first, but in the meantime myself and other firefighters were snapping away. We of course used the excue the photos were for follow-up training, but we all know that ain’t true.
CFP743 (Email) - 06/11/07 - 11:58

Crime scenes, that’s a trickier area. With no supporting evidence at this time— 80+ matches on “photograph” in the General Statutes— my speculation is that there are no laws against picture-taking. Access into areas to take those pictures is another matter. As are any times that the photographs are considered evidence, and requested or seized accordingly. Again, flying on speculation, here.
Legeros - 06/11/07 - 18:38

Isn’t there something about… “if it is in view of the general public, then it is fair game..” meaning, if Mr. Joe Blow Citizen were to be walking past an active crime scene and was able to see blood, bullet casings, evidence markers, a body, etc. etc. in plain view, then anyone can take a picture of it? Same would hold true for patients in auto accidents, medical calls, etc. What is stopping a passer-by from snapping a few pictures with their camera phone?
Luke - 06/11/07 - 23:54

I’m just going on what I’ve been told. That is, law enforcement officers can seize camears and film of pictures taken at crime scenes like 10-50s.
CFP743 (Email) - 06/12/07 - 22:24

This is a pretty easy read and seems to be in more lay-man’s terms and understandable: http://www.kantor.com/blog/Legal-Rights-.. maybe Mike or Lee can add to it.
Luke - 06/12/07 - 23:03

Those interested in the legal rights of public photographers can Google “photography and the law” or “photography is not a crime” and find a ton of perspectives and anecdotes on the subject. Common threads include (a.) heightened sensitivity to public photography since 9/11, (b.) universal disdain for security guards, who appear to have no legal authority to respond to public photography, and (c.) some confusion on the part of some law enforcement officials with regard to the law and public photography.

How does this relate to incident photography and “ambulance chasing?” Might be a bit apples and oranges. My speculation remains that snapping pictures at a crime scene is likely not a crime. The created photographs might become evidence, though. But what does that mean? Any lawyers or law officers reading? Not counting “hey, can we have a copy of those as evidence” requests— which are presumably legal— what is required for a law officer to “seize” something as evidence? Does it have to be obtained either in the course of an arrest, or using a court order?
Legeros - 06/13/07 - 20:23

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