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A new twist from the Forest Service – Fees for photography?

Richard Charpentier Economics, National Monuments of the Southwest, Notes from Rich, Photography Leave a Comment

Ansel Adams was an incredible photographer.  And for anyone who loves photography even a little…well, I’m sure you’ve seen some of his work.  The National Parks benefited greatly from Adams work, and he inspired people around the world to come see natural wonders where ever he photographed.

Today I think he’d hang his head.  The Forest Service wants to collect fees (licensing / permission / call it whatever) for commercial images created on “public” lands.  Basically if you benefit in any way from creating an image and using it commercially they’d like to charge you….up to $1500.00.  Think I’m joking?  I’m not, take a read here.

The photographic work of Ansel Adams sold the parks to people across the globe.  His images, along with the images of countless photographers after him, have inspired so many people to visit the parks, to help protect the parks, and to inspire conservation movements the world over.  But now photographers are going to have to “pay to play?”  Come on?

From the article we have the following:

Yes, it’s true that the lion’s share of the Forest Service budget is now going to dealing with wildfires, but is it so desperate for money that it has to hit up the people who do most of its marketing, photographers? A new policy, quietly proposed by the USFS on September 4 but now catching the public’s attention in a big way, would require $1,500 permits for media taking pictures in wilderness, with fines up to $1,000 for failing to comply. The rules could be applied to anyone taking pictures that result in some kind of commerce, from bloggers to amateur photographers who sell a print or two.

So, what could be considered commercial?  Let’s say you have a blog from your travels and you have some Google Ads up on your site.  If you generate revenue from those ads your site could be considered “commercial.”  Hey, you generated $200 this year, and part of what drove people to your site were the images you produced.  Pony up the cash buddy!  Sure, we know you only made $200, but your fine is going to be a little higher.

This photo was taken from Mesa Verde National Park May of 2014.  I have used it commercially on this site and on a client site.  New images going forward?  Who knows?

This photo was taken from Mesa Verde National Park May of 2014. I have used it commercially on this site and on a client site. New images going forward? Who knows?

Choking off independent media

Let’s see, what’s been in the news lately?  Net Neutrality mean anything to anyone.  This is where some companies can buy higher speed connections on the Internet.  A fast lane for providers who pay to play.  And the rest of the folks on the net who don’t have the bank account to buy into the fast lane.  Yeah, the slow lane for you.  That plays favorites, doesn’t it?  If you’re a multi-billion dollar company who can afford the fast internet then you get favored and can bring information to the masses.  Smaller startups, new media outlets, and individuals sharing information to the world?  Yeah, you’re going in the slow lane.

For free markets to work there has to be “Zero barriers to entry,” into the competitive marketplace.  With a two tiered Internet there are barriers, created by our government, setting up further monopolization of information.  This proposal from the National Forest Service is another such barrier.  If you’re a media outlet with plenty of cash on hand, no trouble.  If you’re a small business owner, maybe trying to make a living off of your photography, yeah you’re screwed!

Small business is not a priority these days

I’m sorry to say it, but small businesses are under assault, and the assault is coming from our own lawmakers.  As the owner of a small business for 6 years now I can tell you, nothing is made easy.  From doing the state’s accounting work on sales tax, to tax penalties for being an independent contractor, I have felt since I first started my business in Prescott that the state is not on my side.  The most recent blow came from the new healthcare legislation that was supposed to help all of us.  Instead it cost me my primary insurance (the coverage was dropped and I was notified in July about that due to the new policies).  So, for a guy who has maintained independent health care all of these years my reward was the loss of a good policy, and a more expensive policy with less benefits put in to replace it.

The debate on net neutrality is one more example, and now that idea of fees to photograph on any public lands?  What small studio owner can afford the fast lane for internet when competing with big companies for bandwidth, or $1,500 in fees to produce an image that they’ll be lucky to sell $500 worth of prints on?  I suppose we can look at it this way…..maybe they just all want us taking “selfies” as those images are always so compelling (for the love of all things good, blow your nose before taking one please).

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Taken on public lands and on a blog that has ads on it. Commercial?

Get them while you can

I suppose my best suggestion to all of the photographers out there?  Take those images while you still can.  To my friends who write and shoot for small magazines an find a few hundred dollars a month in image sales to those magazines…..  Guys, we’ve got a lot to shoot around these days!  Lets add the USFS lands to that now.  One more place we won’t be able to afford to shoot.  At least National Geographic has the budget for it, but the rest of us don’t.

Oh, stupid question…… Don’t we pay taxes already?  This is another tax on small businesses who are already paying in.  Want to read the whole dull proposal?  Here’s the writeup from the Federal Register, Sept 4th 2014.  If you’d like to comment on the proposal you can e-mail directly from this link.

This past Spring while shooting for a client in Scottsdale we learned that we’d need permits to photograph our subjects anywhere in the city of Scottsdale.  If it was public property it was subject to the fee.  So we got creative, found private locations, and purchased passes to the Arizona Botanical Garden as we were allowed to photograph there with our passes. 

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