Alabama Town’s Photography Permit Draws Fire

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The city of Mooresville is charging commercial photographers $500 for a permit to take pictures of its historic buildings, a practice some are questioning as discriminatory and unlawful.

Huntsville photographer Don Broome sent a letter to the editor of The Huntsville Times after he was served with a violation notice two weeks ago and told to leave town because he didn?t buy the permit before taking pictures.

Since Mooresville also charges $30 for a business privilege license, it costs commercial photographers $530 a year to take pictures in the north Alabama town, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and has about 60 residents.

?To me if I?m on a public street, whatever view I have is mine to photograph,? Broome said. ?If I go on somebody?s private property to take pictures, then I?d be stealing it.?

Mayor Jerri McLain said March 19 the person who served Broome with the violation must have been confused about the new policy and fee, which began in January.

She said only commercial photographers who regularly book multiple clients and actually step onto the property to take pictures are required to buy the permit.

Commercial photographers like Broome would be exempt because they don?t have a subject in the photo and aren?t in Mooresville on a regular basis.

The Huntsville Times published a story on the matter in its March 19 editions, and the issue also drew attention from area television stations.

?I think this has been helpful. When some new policy comes on board, you learn and you get better at it,? McLain said.

She said the policy needs to have a description of who the town considers to be a commercial photographer. ?We?ll define that in more narrative,? she said.

Huntsville attorney Charles Younger helped Mooresville draft the policy and said tourists won?t be affected because it only applies to commercial photographers.

A call to Younger?s cell phone was abruptly disconnected and messages left there and at his office were not returned.

McLain said the $500 fee was needed to cut down on the tide of photographers who would flood the town at springtime and fight over space at the historic church, post office and tavern.

She said a $25 business permit was previously all that was needed and the price was raised to $30 when the photography permit was implemented. The additional money from fees are being used to help preserve the buildings, McLain said.

Younger told the Times that Mooresville?s policy was no different from any other town in the United States, but Alabama Press Association attorney Dennis Bailey said this was the first such policy he?d ever heard about.

The photography permit ?has constitutional issues,? he said. ?It?s part of freedom of expression and assembly and to be allowed to photograph what you want and publish it.?

Bailey said that commercial photographers need to have a business license with the city where they are selling their pictures, but not a license with every city they visit to take pictures.

He said the permit also has a problem by not charging amateur photographers for doing the exact same thing the commercial photographers are doing.

?Cities have always been able to charge a permit for doing business in a city,? he said. ?But the idea of charging a photographer to come take a picture of a building … that has First Amendment implications. That?s why I don?t think cities do it.?

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