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Ala. town charges $500 fee to commercial photographers

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Commercial photographers are being charged $500 for a permit to take pictures of buildings in a small, historic town in…

Commercial photographers are being charged $500 for a permit to take pictures of buildings in a small, historic town in Northern Alabama.

Photographer Don Broome said he was served with a violation notice two weeks ago and was told to leave the town of Mooresville, Ala., because he didn’t buy the permit before taking pictures. The town has a mere 60 residents and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

“This appears to be solely an effort to ban photography in this town by creating a fee that is so high photographers will not be able to pay it,” said Dennis R. Bailey, general counsel for the Alabama Press Association. “It’s clearly not a reasonable time, place or matter restriction on the exercise of First Amendment rights.”

Mayor Jerri McLain told the Associated Press that there must have been some confusion regarding the new policy, which was implemented in January. McLain said only commercial photographers who actually step onto property to take pictures and those who regularly book several clients are required to buy the permit.

Broome should be exempt from the permit because he didn’t have a subject in the photo and he isn’t in Mooresville regularly, according to the mayor. Broome lives in Huntsville, a larger city about 20 miles east of Mooresville.

Bailey said the restriction shouldn’t apply to commercial photographers at all though, unless they have multiple people working with them and are at a certain location for an extended amount of time – specific criteria other cities put forth as prerequisites for similar permits.

“The city will have to show a relationship with this permit fee and the cost of government in regulating this activity,” Bailey said. “And, they can’t possibly justify this kind of fee with a photographer who just has a camera around his neck to take a picture of the courthouse.”

Bailey said this restriction could easily shift into the realm of newspaper photography because a lot of smaller newspapers rely on freelance photographers, who often conduct their business much like commercial photographers. It will depend upon how “commercial” is defined, he said.