Recent Broward Law Blog Features

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Movies Don't Own First Amendment

Lawsuit filed in 'Rock of Ages' photo ban • Prohibiting people from taking pictures of stars like Tom Cruise andRussell Brand on the Florida set of Rock of Ages is unconstitutional, according to a lawsuit filed yesterday.

The South Florida chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and The South Florida Gay News (SFGN) sued the City of Fort Lauderdale and its police chief Frank Adderley demanding the court issue an emergency injunction.

The lawsuit alleges that the movie production and presence of stars like Alec Baldwin andCatherine Zeta-Jones "are newsworthy events which the local media is entitled to report on."

Signs posted around the Revolution Live nightclub in downtown Fort Lauderdale, where Rock of Ages is shooting, threaten the arrest of anyone taking pictures in the area. (The word "subject" is misspelled on the signs.) The city ordinance cited on the signs has nothing to do with photography or trespassing.

A police department spokesperson says no one has been arrested yet but a number of paparazzi have been warned to put their cameras away. A city official told reporters that the presence of photographers at the film location is a "public safety issue."

Attorney Norm Kent, publisher of SFGN, says the signs are having a "chilling effect upon the exercise of First Amendment rights" and police officers – including off-duty officers hired by producers of the film – are "unwitting agents of unconstitutionality."

The National Press Photographers Association has also questioned the legality of the warning and said it violates the public's right of free speech and access to public property. In a letter to Adderley, the group claims officers have been "harassing, intimidating and threatening" photographers.

"Photography may not be restricted in a public place to accommodate the whims of Hollywood or the desire by your officers to please their 'second-job' employers," wrote attorney Mickey H. Osterreicher.

If the city doesn't rescind the photography ban, protesters are planning to descend on the area with cameras for a "lunch-in" on Friday.

Producers have filming permits for three blocks in the city until June 24.

"Freedom of expression, which includes photography, cannot be controlled by movie studios from Hollywood," said Kent, "even if Tom Cruise is in the film."

courtesy pop goes the