The Richmond Register

November 5, 2012

The case of the outraged photographers

What's the Law?

By Jack Strauss
Special to the Register

RICHMOND — While it might be a “snap” to take a photograph, a certain amount of red tape was imposed by the City of Hooperville. A law was passed that required all professional photographers to obtain a license before being able to direct their customers to “Watch the Birdee.”

Taking a negative view of the new statute, a group of outraged professional photographers attacked its validity in court.

“While a city may have the authority to pass laws,” they argued, “photography is an art – and a city has no right to curb the artistic temperaments of photographers with silly statutes.”

“There’s nothing silly about it,” responded a city official. “Licensing photographers is necessary to protect the public from inferior workmanship, false advertising and other unscrupulous practices. Even with art, the line has to be drawn somewhere.”

IF YOU WERE THE JUDGE, would you uphold the validity of the negative law?

This is how the judge ruled: NO! The judge held that while a law can be passed to protect the public health, morals, safety and general welfare, photography is an innocuous occupation with no unusual reason for specific regulation. Without such a reason, concluded the judge, the law is an unconstitutional invasion of a person’s freedom to conduct a harmless and lawful business.

(Based upon a 1964 Colorado Supreme Court Decision)

Jack Strauss, a retired New York City trial attorney who now resides in Berea, wrote a syndicated column for 36 years called, “What’s the Law?” It appeared in papers coast to coast, including the Pittsburgh Press, the Los Angeles Examiner, the Hartford Times, the Kansas City Star and the Philadelphia Daily News, among many others. It appears here with his permission.