Commercial companies can now shoot videos in national parks without prior permission

A federal judge recently ruled that the permit and fee requirements for filming videos on National Park Service properties were unconstitutional. As a result, the service no longer collects registration or location fees, nor costs associated with commercial filming until further notice.

In the decision, U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly in Washington, DC, agreed with freelance filmmaker Gordon Price that the regulations violated Price’s free speech rights. While commercial companies still have to fill out an application if they are filming outdoors or if they need large staff – such as companies directing a film or feature film – the decision is big news for those hoping to make a film. “low impact filming”. intended to be shared on social media applications like Facebook and YouTube.

“Previously, all commercial filming in parks required a permit,” said Cynthia Hernandez, public affairs specialist at NPS headquarters in Washington. There was a time when even photographers wishing to take senior portraits at Park Service properties needed a permit. New rules are making the process more flexible.

Social media success

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YouTube and similar social media sites are booming and some people are getting rich. Viewers watch over a billion hours of video on the platform every day. More than 2 billion users, or nearly a third of all internet users, log on each month, according to recent statistics from YouTube. The ability to stream videos directly to a TV has skyrocketed viewers.

No matter what you want to see, you are more than likely to find it online. Want to watch a person eat 32 Big Macs in half an hour? Over 4.7 million viewers watched Joey Chestnut break the record on YouTube last year. Want to watch the famous Baby Shark Dance video? It has been viewed 8.6 billion times. No, it’s not a typo.

How do people make money on YouTube? YouTube’s main source of revenue is advertising, although it does earn extra money through subscription services, typically sharing the revenue with the creators.

When properly accredited, the average earnings of those who post a video are between $ 3 and $ 5 per thousand views. Chestnut probably won over $ 14,000 to stuff his face with nearly three dozen two beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles and onions on a sesame seed bun in front of the camera.

The revenue stream translates into an explosion of “channels” made by average people using digital cameras and video-enabled cell phones. Many just have one or two GoPro or similar cameras capable of taking videos anywhere people or drones can legally go – legally being a key word.

“Videographers, filmmakers, producers, directors and other personnel associated with commercial filming are reminded that the rules and regulations that apply to all visitors to the park still apply to filming activities even if no permit is granted. is necessary for their business, ”Hernandez said in a final email. the week.

Other agencies governing public lands – including the National Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Bureau of Reclamation – have similar rules.

“We are generally open to the public use of our surface when that use does not negatively impact our primary mission and purpose,” said Jay Dallman, natural resources specialist and spokesperson for the Wyoming office. .

“We do not have regulations in place for this kind of activity,” he added in a recent telephone interview. “If someone approached us saying they intended to shoot a video for profit, we would let them know about our clearance process. However, people who roam our surface and take photos or videos are generally considered occasional public use and are not subject to a permit. “

Rule breakers

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Dallman added that there are very few requests for filming on Bureau of Reclamation property. If there were any feature films shot on federal public lands, the industry is generally aware of the localization regulations. But producers of YouTube videos have a reputation for apologizing for breaking regulations later rather than asking permission before uploading their work.

Some have also ignored all the rules in an attempt to create exciting content for their channels. In May 2016, five filmmakers with a brand called High on Life walked through the no-go areas of Grand Prismatic Spring and posted the footage to YouTube. Public outrage and criminal charges followed. Members of the group were temporarily banned from the park, placed on probation and ordered to pay thousands of dollars in fines for entering a spa area and behaving disorderly.

Prior to the recent ruling, the NPS sued videographers posting for-profit videos to YouTube. Kara and Nate Buchanan found out the hard way after posting how much money they were making from videos made at two NPS Colorado properties.

The Buchanans have 2.3 million subscribers, who follow the newlyweds as they travel the world in more than 100 countries. They made a video called “Why We Don’t Visit National Parks” after the incident. Over a million viewers watched it, likely earning the Buchanans between $ 3,000 and $ 5,000 in ad revenue.

After the judge overturned the Park Service’s authorization rules, the couple released a 22-minute video titled, “We were fined $ 1,000 for filming in national parks, then everything changed.”

The video shows the Buchanans immediately heading towards Yellowstone. “We didn’t realize we needed a license to make videos for our YouTube channel,” Nate said.

Although the Buchanans live off their channel’s income, they use quality consumer gear, like cell phone cameras. But Nate said the clearance process was the same as a big movie would be required to do. The cost of applying for the permit was $ 300 and there was a high daily fee while filming. The Buchanans were also reportedly required to provide an “exact” itinerary in advance and then wait weeks for final approval.

“We felt that with all the restrictions, we wouldn’t be able to shoot the kind of content we wanted,” he said.

To celebrate the district court ruling, the couple danced and twerked for the camera in Mammoth Hot Springs. Over a million viewers watched the video, which allowed the couple to cash in more money.

Go forward

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There are still rules for making videos in national parks. Major mistakes include using a drone in parks (they remain prohibited), getting too close or harassing wildlife, and stepping on delicate geographic features off boardwalks and trails. The use of drones is legal on other public property, but their use to hunt wildlife is illegal. The NPS will review the decision and seek to update the rules for videographers in the future.

Until then, be prepared for an avalanche of videos from the country’s public lands and, potentially, more news from scofflaws testing the limits of authority. The rules are not only in place to protect natural resources, but also to protect visitors.

In 2019, Vishnu and Meenakshi Moorthy, two Indian software engineers and travel bloggers, were killed in an 800-foot fall in Yosemite National Park while taking a photo for their favorite social media site.

They weren’t the first to be injured while filming a social media stunt – and arguably will be the last.

About Keith Tatum

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