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City To Reform Film-Permit Scheme To Settle Suit Brought By Documentary Filmmaker

In a settlement released today, New York City has agreed to create, for the first time, written rules governing the issuance of permits for film makers and photographers. Under the new rules, which are to be published Friday in the City Record, film makers and photographers using hand-held equipment no longer will be required to obtain city permits or to have $1 million of insurance.

The settlement comes in response to a federal lawsuit brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Rakesh Sharma, an Indian documentary film maker who NYPD officers detained for several hours in May 2005 for filming on a city sidewalk in midtown Manhattan with a handheld video camera. During his detention Sharma was told he had to have a film permit, but when he subsequently applied to the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theater and Broadcast (MOFTB) for a permit to film with a handheld camera, his application was denied.

The NYCLU sued on his behalf in January 2006, challenging the City’s film-permit practices and Sharma’s detention. By agreeing to adopt the new rules and by paying Sharma damages for his detention and permit denial, the City has settled the entire case.

“As a film maker and activist, I was deeply troubled by having to obtain government permission to make a political documentary,” Sharma said. “This settlement will free me and other film makers from unnecessary government control.”

“Over the last several years we have received numerous complaints about the mistreatment of film makers and photographers,” NYCLU Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn said. “The adoption of these new rules is an important reform, but we will continue our efforts to protect the rights of photographers.”

“In a democracy, individuals don’t have to ask before taking pictures or making films,” NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said. “Those activities are protected by the First Amendment. The Civil Liberties Union will continue to prioritize their protection.”

NYU Civil Rights Clinic students Scott Michels, Mark Landsman, and David Rosen served as co-counsel on the case with Dunn.

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