Permits Might Be Back on the Req List for Photography in National Parks Thanks to New Court Ruling


A big win for photography in national parks might be pyrrhic after all because a new court ruling rolls back the “no permit required” order and restores the prior status quo.

two plateau in distant of other plateau
A picture of a desert plateau. Photo by Cayetano Gil

As you can imagine, the National Park Service in the United States is pretty thrilled about this while photographers are decidedly less so.

For a refresher, PetaPixel reminds us that this saga all began with Gordon Price and his film Crawford Road which was shot on NPS land and without a permit. Although the service dropped their lawsuit, Price sued to overturn the permit requirement, arguing it was a violation of his constitutional rights.

The ruling overturning this argued that, while national parks are public locations they are not necessarily public forums in that the filmmaker is not attempting to actively communicate with people in that space. If you think that’s strange, a dissenting judge agreed, emphasizing that the concept of “ disaggregate speech creation and dissemination, thus degrading First Amendment protection for filming, photography, and other activities essential to free expression in today’s world.”

Naturally, the idea that filmmaking is a step in the communications process and not a form of communication in and of itself runs somewhat against the grain of law as it was understood until this ruling. For its part, the NPPA highlights that the fee and permitting structure often doesn’t distinguish between big-budget pro productions and something shot for social media. At the end of the day, however, hope remains that precedent will ultimately prevail but we’ll keep you posted.

What are your thoughts on permits in national parks? Should they be required or is that an infringement on photographers’ rights? Let us know your thoughts on that subject in the comments.

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About Author

Kehl is our staff photography news writer since 2017 and has over a decade of experience in online media and publishing and you can get to know him better here and follow him on Insta.

In case you didn’t know, the photograph at the top of the article is not a National Park. It’s Monument Valley, a Navajo tribal park.

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