my view

Opposition to an encroachment of civil liberty

An open letter to the Honesdale Borough Council

By TANNER SIMON
Posted 3/10/21

Respectable Borough Council President, Michael Augello, Councilmen, James Brennan Jr., Robert Jennings, James Jennings, Jared Newbon, William McAllister and Mayor Sarah Canfield:

On behalf of …

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my view

Opposition to an encroachment of civil liberty

An open letter to the Honesdale Borough Council

Posted

Respectable Borough Council President, Michael Augello, Councilmen, James Brennan Jr., Robert Jennings, James Jennings, Jared Newbon, William McAllister and Mayor Sarah Canfield:

On behalf of myself, the borough’s photographers and videographers, and the citizens of Honesdale, I would like to offer a simple case for why it is in the borough’s best interest to oppose An Ordinance Adopting a Media Application.

According to the proposed bill, any citizen in Honesdale who commits a “photoshoot,” regardless of if “the final product is intended for commercial use or not,” will be in direct violation of the law and face up to $1,000 in fines, unless they pay a fee and register up to “10 days in advance.” Every single person in Honesdale who takes a picture will be accountable to this law. That means no Snapchat selfies in the park, no pictures of Honesdale from Irving Cliff and no pictures of sunsets without paying for a permit or risking criminal prosecution.

The freedom of the press is likewise under direct assault. How can a reporter register a permit up to “10 days in advance” for a photoshoot or live video feed on the location of an incident before such an incident occurs—such as a fire, car accident, or crime? It is not the business of the news to predict the news, and we, the people of Honesdale, would suffer by being ignorant to the affairs of our town.

The most offending part of this bill, Section III Article A, poses to regulate the daily activities of Honesdale citizens, stating that:

“The permit required under this ordinance shall be a requirement for all movies, television or video series, pilots, feature films and documentaries, commercials, music videos, photoshoots, infomercials and public service announcements and or any similar media event type events, whether the final product is intended for commercial use or not, all the forgoing constituting ‘Media Production Activity.’”

It is unacceptable that this ordinance offers no distinction between private and commercial uses of “Media Production Activity,” for this implicates all activities pertaining to videography and photography—regulating a child with a toy Polaroid camera to George Lucas with a multi-million-dollar budget. The only application this ordinance stands to serve is turning Honesdale into an authoritarian police state.

It is evident that this ordinance is intended to regulate large-scale, large-budget video productions—like feature films—but its wide-reaching language covers anything from a selfie to an amateur nature photographer. Simply put, it is too much of a time and financial burden to impose these regulations on the small, independent photographers and videographers of Honesdale, and its wide-reaching language could also implicate ordinary citizens taking ordinary photos. If this law is necessary, a comprehensive rewrite is needed to ensure protections and exemptions for private use, small-businesses, and armatures. Here is a suggested rewrite to Section III Article A:

“The permit required under this ordinance shall be a requirement for all movies, television or video series, pilots, feature films and documentaries, commercials, music videos, photoshoots, infomercials and public service announcements and or any similar media event type events, whereas the final product is intended for commercial use, whereas all personal, private, academic, free-press, journalistic and non-commercial productions of media intended for private, personal, academic, free-press, journalistic and non-commercial use are exempt from permissions, all of the foregoing constituting ‘Media Production Activity,’ whereas ‘Media Production Activity’ is explicitly defined as visual media that uses the processes of photography, either digitally or via analogue processes in a production with a total budget in excess of $50,000, and excludes ‘Media Production Activity’ defined as writing, painting, drawing and oration.”

The aforementioned amendment would make it so that this legislation would only apply to “Media Production Activity” that would spend more than $50,000, such as a large-scale movie, television, or documentary production. Local commercial media production will be exempt from these regulations on the ground that these regulations would negatively impact the livelihoods of these practitioners, and that their operations do not need regulation because they do not interfere with the running of the town.

I would also like to point out a peculiarity in Section VII Article E: “The minimum limits of insurance coverage shall be not less than $1,000,000.00 million per occurrence.” For those unaware, $1,000,000 million is equivalent to a trillion dollars. That is a number wholly unrealistic for damages to incur, let alone exceed, in any situation in Honesdale, regardless of what is damaged, if the entire town is destroyed by a great biblical deluge, or if Honesdale destroys some filmmaker’s equipment. There is no situation in which the starting limits of insurance coverage must be over one trillion dollars.

Again, councilmembers, please vote “nay” to this ordinance, and if it is necessary to regulate the booming feature-film industry in Honesdale, please rewrite it before voting on it.

A lifelong resident of Honesdale, Tanner Simon currently practices art and historiography.

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