New Bill Could Penalize Well Intentioned Photographers With Fines & Possible Jail Time

May 12, 2015

Tiffany Mueller

Tiffany Mueller is a photographer based in Hawi, Hawaii. You can follow her Twitter here and her personal life here.

New Bill Could Penalize Well Intentioned Photographers With Fines & Possible Jail Time

May 12, 2015

Tiffany Mueller

Tiffany Mueller is a photographer based in Hawi, Hawaii. You can follow her Twitter here and her personal life here.

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4684298835_2592497db6_bWyoming is unquestionably a gorgeous state and one that’s coveted by landscape and wildlife photographers around the world. With Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Tetons, or one of the other vast and countless parks, it’s one of the United State’s more untouched states, providing photographers a wide offering of natural backdrops to photograph. However, according to a report published by Slate, a new bill (SF0012) has gone into effect which may have some photographers facing up to five years jail time.

“photos are a type of data, and the new law makes it a crime to gather data about the condition of the environment across most of the state if you plan to share that data with the state or federal government.”

The law, titled ‘Trespassing to collect data’, states that any individual collecting data (photographs included) on open land without written or verbal permission to be collecting data is punishable by $1000 fine, up to one year jail time, or both. Repeat offenders would face a fine of up to $5000 and/or a jail sentence of up to 5 years

What this means for photographers is even though you may have permission to be photographing on land, unless it is specifically stated that you are allowed to take photographs as a method of documenting environmental resource data, should your photos make it back to a state or federal government agency, you have broken the law. The example Slate provides has a photographer taking an image of the sunrise over Yellowstone, not a big deal, thousands of those photos exist. But, if that photographer happens to really like his photo and submits it into a contest being offered by the National Weather Service, said photographer is now technically a criminal under the new law.

Another hypothetical example would be if you were out photographing wildlife on open land and were granted permission to be doing so, but then saw someone pouring some kind of chemical into a nearby stream and photographed it as evidence to turn into federal authorities, technically you could also be facing jail time.

According to Justin Pidot, an assistant professor at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, who penned the Slate article:

“The new law is of breathtaking scope. It makes it a crime to “collect resource data” from any “open land,” meaning any land outside of a city or town, whether it’s federal, state, or privately owned. The statute defines the word collect as any method to “preserve information in any form,” including taking a “photograph” so long as the person gathering that information intends to submit it to a federal or state agency. In other words, if you discover an environmental disaster in Wyoming, even one that poses an imminent threat to public health, you’re obliged, according to this law, to keep it to yourself.”

Pidot cites the motivation behind the new law as a way around enforcing laws which would require cattle ranchers to restrict how often their cattle grazed near streams, which can cause the spread of e. coli. According to Pidot, the ranching community in Wyoming is very large and has a lot of politically pull. He is urging the U.S. Department of Justice to bring forth a lawsuit which would rule the new Wyoming law unconstitutional.

Of course, the situations presented are all hypothetical and it remains to be seen just how the law will be enforced, but it’s important to be informed on such laws rather than learn the hard way.( Not to mention, the obvious concerns raised by this particular law that falls outside of photography.) You can read the bill in it’s entirety, here.

[ via Slate | Lead Image by Esther Lee ]

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Tiffany Mueller

Tiffany Mueller

Tiffany Mueller is a photographer based in Hawi, Hawaii. You can follow her Twitter here and her personal life here.

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48 responses to “New Bill Could Penalize Well Intentioned Photographers With Fines & Possible Jail Time”

  1. Robert Guimont Avatar
    Robert Guimont

    There is something seriously wrong with all levels of government in the US.

  2. Ben Henderson Avatar
    Ben Henderson

    Have to wonder why this law was even written in the first place… Very strange!

    1. Tiffany Mueller Avatar
      Tiffany Mueller

      I’m not ruling out it was written as way to protect the ranchers from having to put up miles and miles of fence to keep their cattle away from streams, which they have most likely been doing forever. I don’t think it was written strictly with malice towards photographers to say, but it still stinks on a lot of levels.

  3. Eric O'Brien Avatar
    Eric O’Brien

    Maybe I’m missing something but this doesn’t make sense to me. You can photograph all you want for personal use but if the photo is somehow used by the government it’s suddenly illegal?

    1. Tiffany Mueller Avatar
      Tiffany Mueller

      Not used, necessarily, but rather turned in or submitted to the government.

  4. Rex Deaver Avatar
    Rex Deaver

    The legislature adjourned sine die without taking action. Which means the bill is dead and will have to be re-submitted in the next session. As the article states, it is”a way around enforcing laws which would require cattle ranchers to restrict how often their cattle grazed near streams, which can cause the spread of e. coli.”

  5. Allan Go Avatar
    Allan Go

    I wonder if this is true. Any links? To start with, Yosemite is in California, not Wyoming. The writer probably meant Yellowstone. Based on that unprofessional error, i would take this news with a grain of salt.

    1. Tiffany Mueller Avatar
      Tiffany Mueller

      Yes, that was a typographical error. Thanks for pointing it out, my mistake!

  6. Joe Spowal Jr. Avatar
    Joe Spowal Jr.

    maybe this will cut down on a lot of the “wannabe” photographers thinking they are “professionals”

    1. Pro Envy Avatar
      Pro Envy

      … Or professionals that illegally take pictures on public land without permits. You know the difference between an amateur and a pro? Amateurs don’t pout when they are told their pictures suck.

      1. Hagbard Celine Avatar
        Hagbard Celine

        “Amateurs don’t pout when they are told their pictures suck.”

        That’s a load of horse-shit.

  7. Richard Cowles Avatar
    Richard Cowles

    Uummm . . . last time I checked Yosemite was in California . . .

    1. Tiffany Mueller Avatar
      Tiffany Mueller

      Yes, that was a mistake on my behalf. Sorry, it’s been corrected–thanks for mentioning.

  8. Kevin Blackburn Avatar
    Kevin Blackburn

    Well The state law would not restrict you inside a National Park I would not think Nore on National lands like National Forest or BLM Land which is what allot of the land in the West is all though leased by ranchers they are all public lands Just a thought but I am no lawyer and certainly not from Wyoming

  9. Ira Crummey Avatar
    Ira Crummey

    If this is a fact the really scary part is that it muzzles any attempt to note any environmental issue. How can we clean up any problem if we aren’t even allowed to mention it?

  10. Russ Avatar

    surely that includes just looking at the view as that is also collecting data.

    1. borntobewild Avatar

      especially if one has photographic memory !!!!

  11. Jeannie Canode Avatar
    Jeannie Canode

    “Professionals” began as “wannabe’s” with a goal in mind and a love for the Art of the image Joe Spowal Jr. !!!

    1. Cherokee Monroe Avatar
      Cherokee Monroe

      Don’t mind Joe he’s just pissed off because Dorothy got the ruby slippers instead.

  12. Chongo Yu Avatar
    Chongo Yu

    Good job to all the people who vote for bigger gov’t and over reach.

    1. The Rifleman Avatar
      The Rifleman

      The people that are proposing this are Republicans that YOU voted into office because they lied and said that they represented limited government, not Democrats. You’re accusing the wrong idiots.

      You see, the argument of limited or bigger government is a lie given by politicians to polarize your vote. In truth all politicians want limited government where it serves their interests while creating bigger government where it serves their interests. Why do think in Arizona you can bring a gun into every public building except the one where lawmakers work in? Don’t let the politicians and media think for you.

      1. Hagbard Celine Avatar
        Hagbard Celine

        “Don’t let the politicians and media think for you.”

        Good advice.

        Now think about what you wrote about Republicans vs. Democrats. You are letting politicians think for you by propagating this bullshit bipartisanism.

        You’re being duped by both sides. Why is it that Bush implemented the Patriot Act and instead of Obama repealing it he EXPANDED it? Simple because they are both on the same side. The side of whoever holds the purse strings.

        Republicans and Democrats are all the same.

  13. John Deir Avatar
    John Deir

    So do not bring your camera to Wyoming, but you can bring your semi-automatic rifle and blast away?

    1. mike Avatar

      The United States. Where we restrict cameras more than guns.

      But when you think about it… Cameras are much more dangerous to governments than guns could ever be. Think about Kent State and Tienanmen Square. If those protesters were armed but undocumented, we would have never heard about either event. Instead, peaceful and filmed… a government’s worst nightmare.

  14. Rick Avatar

    This article is total BS. I suggest everyone read through the (rather laughable) text of the bill. It is meant to restrict eco-activists, not photographers. Can they prosecute an ordinary photographer for submitting a photo to a gov’t sponsored photo contest, sure. But would they…no, not without subjecting themselves to a media firestorm. And a media firestorm would just cause everything they are trying to put into place to unravel.

    I long for the days back when this blog was about DIY Photography, not tabloid journalism.

    1. The Rifleman Avatar
      The Rifleman

      By your own admittance the proposed bill would apply to casual photographers and therefore the point is not whether or not officials would elect to enforce the law in such cases to avoid bad publicity but that it is inherently flawed and forces law enforcement to interpret rather than apply the law uniformly. This is something you try to avoid when making laws.

      Aside from this fact you mention that it is to protect against Eco-activists. When did a law abiding citizen witnessing destruction of public trust land lose there rights to call out criminal activity just because you don’t like their agenda? If you don’t like Eco-activists it’s pretty simple: follows the rules granted to you when using federal and state lands and they won’t have a photo opportunity. Attempting to deprive them of their rights is a self admission of your own guilt. And no I am not a tree hugger, but I am also not a patsy for industry ( because they are job creators – there’s a load of bullshit).

      You criticize the blog for sensatizionalizing the story, and yet nothing they said was outrageously untruthful. Yes they sold the story hard, but the truth is that you just don’t like what they had to say. They admit the bill was dead but if we don’t discuss it and condemn it eventually it may slip into the law books. I come from Arizona where EV Meecham unsuccessfully ran for governor several times before finally being elected. And he was a whack job that eventually got impeached. Anything can happen in politics.

      You can’t espouse limited government from one side of your mouth while taking away the freedoms of your opponents with the other. Don’t work that way and this little cowboy will fight to the end to make sure that we create a democracy that keeps the fight fair.

      1. Rick Avatar

        You make the errant assumptions that I am in any way for this bill and am against people protecting the environment. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I am merely lamenting the change of what used to be an excellent DIY forum into an activist rag.

    2. mike Avatar

      You do not understand how law works. You can’t create a blanket law that is only intended to be enforced against those you don’t like. “It is now illegal to breathe USA air. But don’t worry, we will only enforce this against ‘bad guys’.”

      You will find that now the government can arrest anyone they like for any reason.

      1. Rick Avatar

        Clearly you don’t understand how the law works in the real world. They “are” only after the bad guys. The rest are not worth the paperwork or the court time. I haven’t gotten a ticket in nearly 30 years because of this even though I’ve been pulled over on multiple occasions for legitimate violations. And if you don’t think traffic stops count, ask any Officer where they catch the most criminals.

        1. Ahmet Avatar

          If there is a law it must be applied to everyone equally. Eg. you take a timelapse of deforestation, use it in a presentation at a school. Someone doesn’t like you and reports it. Wow, you are in deep sh*t. Or you expect the judge to say “yeah, but this is not that kind of law we apply on anyone”.
          Why do you pay tax? Maybe that is a kind of law that applies to bad guys only. Anyway what kind of people are those who are concerned about the environment? The typical bad guys? Give me an example when collecting data on the environmental changes should be a criminal act. BTW Google Earth does it already…

  15. Ahmet Avatar

    Whatever the reason was behind, the summary: environmental whistle-blowers will be shot.
    I understand that this bill is dead, but even to write down something this stupid at that level… Seriously, China will be more free in a few years.

    1. peterblaise Avatar

      “Shot” photographically, right?

  16. Justin Akard Avatar
    Justin Akard


  17. RegularGuy55 Avatar

    Why does government insist on substituting its rules for plain, common sense?

  18. JP Danko Avatar
    JP Danko

    Ahhhhhh data! Ahhhhh science!

  19. Alex Benvenuto Avatar
    Alex Benvenuto

    …free country?

  20. Jon Peckham Avatar
    Jon Peckham

    worthess sociopathic politicians.

  21. opin53 Avatar

    Sheesh!! I live in the UK, and may never visit Wyoming, although I would like to.
    However, I am a little bit less likely to now.
    This law is utterly bewildering. I thought the USA was the land of the free. Surely people reporting wrong-doing to the authorities is a good thing. Seems like the Wyoming government either don’t want to be bothered with enforcing the laws, or are in the pocket of business, i.e. ranchers.
    As for the remark that the law would not be enforced against photographers – if the law exists, at some point it will be applied. If it is not aimed at photographers then rewrite it to make that clear.

    1. Dan Avatar

      Land of the free for those that have fat wallets.

  22. Dustin Gariepy Avatar
    Dustin Gariepy

    So now the citizens of this country can’t take photos of public land? This is a f-ing joke.

  23. mike Avatar

    I believe the tl;dr on this is “it is now illegal to make the government look like the liars they are.”

  24. Grrreat! Avatar

    This would never survive a 1st amendment challenge, and they know it. Another example of a pompous legislature trying to look good for a particular group while knowing they will be completely ineffectual.

    And no, it’s not limited to the USA.

  25. Kellicia Morse Avatar
    Kellicia Morse

    Are they going to put drawlers into jail too? What about little kids who take a pebble because it got stuck in their shoe. What about the dogs who uses the water in lakes or rivers? All of these scenarios are also considered data collecting. This law does not make sense.

    1. Hagbard Celine Avatar
      Hagbard Celine

      What the hell is a drawler? And a kid getting a pebble stuck in their shoe, what’s that have to do with “collecting data”? And how is a dog supposed to turn water into a government agency?

      What doesn’t make sense is your whole post. Seriously, are you brain damaged?

  26. Michelle Jurgens Avatar
    Michelle Jurgens

    It’s true. I live in Colorado and they have similar laws here too.

    1. peterblaise Avatar

      So … carry a 2nd Amendment gun when carrying a 1st Amendment camera?

  27. Clyde Matthew Jones II Avatar
    Clyde Matthew Jones II

    I just talked to a park ranger at Grand Teton and he said it was fine to take pictures but no video. I you shoot video you have to get a commercial license. At RMNP it is $300 a year and covers video, people, you on family shots, cars ect.. The only thing you can shoot is the actual landscapes with out a permit everything else requires a commercial license.

    1. peterblaise Avatar

      Lying liars and the lies they tell.

      You only need a permit ( which they cannot deny ) for exclusive use of government property so they can plan and ensure you are insured.