Recently, I learned that the Isle of Palms (IOP) in South Carolina has made it illegal for photographers to take commercial photography onto the public beaches.  The specific phraseology of a recently posted page for IOP states that:

“Commercial activity, including photograpy, is prohibited on the Isle of Palms beach.  Unless a special exemption is granted by City Council, photographers who take portraits or photographs on the Isle of Palms beach as part of a commercial transaction are in violation of City ordinances.”

For now I will ignore the part where they mis-spelled photography as ‘photograpy’ (because it’s probably just a typo).  Instead I would like to take a moment to discuss the larger implication of making photography illegal.  It is noted further down that commercial photographers can “obtain an exemption” but this is far different from the traditional practice of “requiring a permit”.  This is basically making photography illegal.  You can be granted an exemption from legal enforcement if you request it from City Council, but that is entirely different than requiring a professional photographer to pay for a permit at City Hall.

IOP Laws on Commercial Photography

View the full page here

Keep in mind that coastal beaches are publicly owned and maintained by the state, and thus public access is required.  While restricting the nature of access is fine, the verbiage here presents serious problems and implications for photographers.  So, the burning questions in my mind are:

  • Can IOP do this?
  • Is this an acceptable practice?
  • Does the ASMP know about this?  If so, why aren’t they taking appropriate actions?

Why has no one come forward to challenge the legality of this law, because on prima facia grounds, it seems to run in direction contradiction with traditional practices toward permitting and banning of commercial activities.  Typically, commercial activity requires simply paying a fee at the local municipality, obtaining the permit to continue, and then continuing.  That is not the case here – they are requiring an exemption to be granted by the entire City Council!  Lastly, I also cannot help but wonder where organizations like the ASMP haven’t gotten involved or taken exception to this.

I understand what SC is trying to do, and don’t necessarily have a problem with the intent – what does appear to be problematic though…are the words.  Worded correctly, there would be absolutely no issue with this, but as it currently stands, there is a definite problem with the words!  What do you think?  Vote in the poll or sound off in the comments…

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10 thoughts on “The problem with words…

  1. Thanks for the information – I was trying to find out what was going on with beach photography in SC.

    However – before you comment on someone else’s typos, you might want to check your own post 🙂

    1. Uh oh – do I have a typo? Always good to have a second set of eyes…oh wait, I see it! Fixed! 🙂

  2. I am mesmerised by the photographs in this blog. Amazing content. Keep up the good work.

  3. I mean really. Houston is cracking down on professional photographers as well. As I am on the board of our local guild, we are contemplating purchasing a permit from the city which we can then sell to our members.

  4. I posted this to a few photo forums and encouraged some discussion there as well – so permit me a few qualification remarks here:

    Requiring a permit for commercial purposes is one thing…

    Requiring a permit allows for a certain level of management and oversight. In the case of IOP, my guess is that the oversight is intended to protect both the beach goers and the tourism value of said beaches.

    For instance, when the folks from “Wheel of Fortune” were in downtown Charleston, there were roped off areas that said in essence that recording equipment was in place and if you crossed into those areas, you were consenting to being recorded, and waived the city and WOF of any liability for injuries sustained, etc…all part of the permit process.

    Banning the practice altogether by statute, then stating that if you approach the City Council and request to have an exemption, you are in essence saying “I want to do what the law does not allow me to do…is it ok?” and in a public area!

    The IOP policy/law/statute/etc. sets a very bad precedent for not only SC, but for other areas as well. Requiring a permit to manage the area is one thing, but banning the practice altogether and then allowing for exemptions based on the whims of the City Council is another thing entirely.

    A permit means the practice is managed, and the city could even gain some revenue in the process.

    A prohibition is just the first step in a dangerous slippery slope.

    Does that make more sense?

  5. SteelToad says:

    I voted “leave it alone, there’s nothing wrong with it” but that’s not entirely the case.

    They can, and should, restrict access and activities in some public places when that restriction is to ensure the peace and well being of citizens visiting the area. Some beaches don’t allow dogs on the beach, because they might ‘do their business’ in the sand and ruin somebodys day, this ruling seems to be to prevent the “Do you want your picture taken” photographers for exactly the same reason.

    Requiring an exemption allows the city to deny Johnny Shuttercreep (who always annoys people) while still allowing Betty Collegestudent. It also allows them to make sure there are only 30 photographers on the beach instead of 3000 annoyances.

    The real problem is the they’ve been overly vague by just limiting commercial photography. If a photographer wants to shoot a model on a public beach at sunrise when there’s nobody there, that shouldnt require a permit. If a local business wants to hire a photographer to get a shot of the bustling summer beach for their website, that too shouldn’t require anything special for a public beach.

    What they really need to do is to spell out what type of activity they’re trying to restrict, and then put in place some kind of licensure system. It sounds like in this case, they were just being lazy … at the expense of peoples rights.

    1. I don’t see how this prevents “Johnny Shuttercreep” from taking photos of people on the public beach. That’s not (necessarily, or normally) commercial photography. At least not what I’m thinking of – which is more along the lines of street photography. Perhaps you’re thinking of a different situation.

      Are you, SteelToad, saying you’re OK with banning photography completely in public places because it might annoy someone? Such as on the street, perhaps? Only allowing photography if someone has a permit or exemption? I’m guessing you aren’t, but you don’t seem to be entirely separating yourself from the notion either.

      1. SteelToad says:

        Quite the contrary, I think all photography should be allowed, especially when it’s in a public area.

        What I was referring to is the people that come up to you while youre on the beach asking if you want your picture taken. If you do, they take the pic and tell you where you can pick it up (usually a shop nearby). A few of those is fine, but when you get a ton of them on a small beach area then it becomes a nuissance and detracts from the beach experience for everyone, and the state has the obligation to step in for the public good.

        By having more than just a “pay your fee, get your permit” process in place, they can stop Johnny Shuttercreep types more readily, “Hey your that creep everybody keeps complaining about, No you cant get a permit”. It sounds here like they’ve gone overboard and taken something that should be allowed, disallowed it, and then only grant it back with special permission. They need to be specific about what they’re trying to regulate, and regulate only that activity, and only if it’s legal to do so.

  6. Having recently moved to the area I was at a loss for words when I found out about this. I have been telling my clients coming to the area for vacation to rent houses at Folly so they can have their portraits done easily. Maybe loss of revenue will help them see the error of this.

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