Does a photographer need a permit to take a picture in a park?

Josephine Havlak is a St. Louis-based photographer who has taken pictures for portraits, weddings, and events since 1979. Havlak takes pictures in several places, including a public park in the Village of Twin Oaks. The 11-acre park features a waterfall and a picturesque wood bridge spanning a creek.

Twin Oaks initially banned all commercial activity in the park, even going as far as posting signs that stated “No commercial activity, including commercial photographers.” The Village then amended its ordinance, requiring a permit for all commercial activity in the park. Commercial photographers who want to use the park for five minutes to take the picture of just one person must still pay $100 and wait at least 48 hours for a permit.  Taking a photograph for commercial purposes without a permit subjects the photographer to penalties of up to $1,000 in fines or 90 days in county jail.

According to Havlak, the Village’s permit requirement is a part of a distributing trend by municipal governments to place restrictions on commercial photography in public parks. She argued that, due to last minute changes in lighting and weather, waiting at least 48 hours for a permit makes it almost impossible for her to take pictures in that park.

Havlak filed a First Amendment lawsuit in federal court. Unfortunately, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit concluded that the permitting requirement, even as applied to small groups, was narrowly tailored to serve the Village’s interests in reducing congestion and maintaining park safety. Thus, even though the court acknowledged the free speech implications of the Village’s permitting requirement, it ruled against Havlak in her appeal.

It’s an interesting case, and we’ll see if the Supreme Court will have the opportunity to intervene.


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