Legal question if anyone knows…



  • I was watching some protests, and it really doesn’t matter what the protest was about; however there was someone who was a counter-protester who was very peacefully filming the whole event.  Police were present and there was no violence.  However a group of the protesters walked in front of the guy filming and blocked him filming with their signs.  Can they do that?  I wouldn’t think that would be legal to do, but they did it anyway and the cops allowed it.  I wouldn’t even think this would be a state by state thing either, the First Amendment is pretty straight forward with this kind of thing.

    Anyhow, I would be curious to find out if anyone has the info.

    Thanks.


  • 2017 '16

    Legally speaking, I’m pretty sure the 1st Amendment doesn’t include “the right to have a clear shot to film without obstruction”.

    As long as nobody was physically assaulting someone else (on either side) I don’t see any laws being broken… there’s no right to a clear camera shot in the constitution.


  • 2020 2019 2018 2017 '16 '15 '14 Customizer '13 '12 '11 '10

    Just to offer a personal opinion: if “the guy” whose filming was blocked was a journalist, this action could perhaps be seen as interference with First Amendment’s freedom-of-the-press provision…though a counter-argument might be that “freedom of the press” may actually refer to the publication of information by the press, not to the gathering of information by the press.  If “the guy” wasn’t a journalist, I don’t see how the First Amendment’s freedom-of-speech provision applies: filming somebody isn’t speech (the expression of a view), it’s data-gathering.


  • 2018 2017

    Is the obstructor a state actor?  An agent of the state, or any of its departments?  If not,

    Is the obstructor trespassing, or committing some other crime (assault; spaying a noxious chemical at the filmer?)  Either way its still not a rights infringement, its a crime that avoids the question because we then would be allowed to arrest the obstructor for another pretexutal reason.

    No, they are also protestors, exhibiting their 1A rights.  They are allowed to go there.

    The 1A law doesn’t say that you have to be provided a full or unrestricted audience/platform/venue for your speech, it just says that the government cannot suppress that speech based on its content.  If that suppression involves positive acts (having a state actor obstruct your expression, limiting your expression so thoroughly by rules/laws/restrictions that you have no practical way of expressing it)
    then you may have a cause of action.

    If it is not the STATE that is suppressing your speech but rather, another private person, the only remedy would be civil action (trespass, nuisance, assault…false imprisonment…if any), or criminal action (if applicable).

    The person filming may not even be “expressing” anything.  As the law sees it, the filming is irrelevant–you own the film and are allowed to film anywhere you are allowed to be in general (wherever YOU aren’t breaking the law or the rights of the private property holder).



  • The fact that it was deliberate is what bothers me.  Taking out the entire 1A than.  I do not have the right to stand up in a movie theater and block someones view.  They will throw me out.  The speech given there was no fee to listen to, so deliberately blocking the recorders view point seems wrong, if not illegal.  Now the protesters did have a permit, but if they wanted privacy they should have rented out a hall or something and not gone to a public place.  He has as much right to be there as they do.

    I was asking a legal question, and while the law may not make sense it is still the law.  However it seems really disorderly and can lead to this kind of mob mentality.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ZSoJDUD_bU


  • 2020 2019 2018 2017 '16 '15 '14 Customizer '13 '12 '11 '10

    @Zooey72:

    The fact that it was deliberate is what bothers me.  Taking out the entire 1A than.  I do not have the right to stand up in a movie theater and block someones view.  They will throw me out.  The speech given there was no fee to listen to, so deliberately blocking the recorders view point seems wrong, if not illegal.  Now the protesters did have a permit, but if they wanted privacy they should have rented out a hall or something and not gone to a public place.  He has as much right to be there as they do.

    I was asking a legal question, and while the law may not make sense it is still the law.  However it seems really disorderly and can lead to this kind of mob mentality.

    It’s clear that you’re unhappy with what happened, which you’re completely entitled to be.  Your two posts also make it clear that what happened seems wrong to you, which is a perfectly valid position to take; “it seems wrong to me” is a position that nobody can argue with.  If, however, something is going to be argued on a legal basis, then the argumentation has to be clear and systematic,and it has to be based on what the law actually says.  I’m not sure your post actually does this.

    If I understand correctly what you’re saying, you’re saying that “the speech was free, and somebody wanted to film that speech, and somebody else tried to prevent that speech from being filmed, and therefore that’s an interference with free speech, and therefore that’s a violation of the First Amendment.”  I’m not sure that argument would hold up in court.  The core question which the opposing side in court would ask would be: “Was the speaker prevented from speaking?” The answer would be “no”, and the case would probably be summarily dismissed at that point.  It’s fine to say that “the law is the law” – but what does the law actually say?  Does the First Amendment include any language stating clearly – or even implying to a reasonable degree – that it’s unconstitutional to get in the way of someone who’s trying to videotape a speech?  If so, it would be useful for you to provide us with the relevant text, and also with a reference to where this text is within the Constitution.



  • I posted this as a question… because yes I did not know.

    However what you are saying does not have limits. �Instead of bringing a camera the man brought 2 blow horns and every time the speaker tried to speak he blew them?(which I have seen happen) �Or what if he stepped to the front of the line of people trying to see the speaker, except he carried a huge sign with a base that would obscure the view of the hundreds of people trying to view the speech?

    The law is the law, but the law is supposed to be equal. �I defy you to give me an example of how they can legally obscure this man’s view and not infringe on his rights, but that he is infringing on their rights if he responds in kind.

    I know of no ‘size limit on signs’, nor a prohibition of using a base to hold said sign. �So if your argument is that it is their right to do that, he than in turn has the right to obstruct their view as well.

    Us having this argument right now is why you are seeing so much rioting and what not. �Where does one person’s rights start and someone else’s begin? �Please tell me how a large sign done just by him to obscure the protesters view (or him and his buddies come and block all their views with many signs) is any different than what the protesters did to him?

    And if you want to play the game you are playing with ‘a good view’ is not a right.  Fine, lets say the speaker is using props or the viewer is blind and reading lips.  The legal game you are playing with this is a bit absurd.  Free speech is not speech if someone is talking to themselves because people can’t get access to that speech by the deliberate actions of others.  Your argument is more one of government censorship.  “We let people write what they wanted, we just didn’t let anyone read it”.


  • 2017 '16

    A lot of people get confused about what the First Amendment is… simply put the First Amendment guarantees that THE GOVERNMENT cannot prevent someone from speaking their mind, no matter what the speaker has in mind to say, and that’s pretty much it… The Government can’t stop you from speaking. The First Amendment does NOT guarantee that you must be heard, it only gives you the right to speak, not the right to be heard. It also does not protect you from consequences of said speech.

    If your private employer (maybe a tomato plant) says you can’t go to a rally and say “I don’t like tomatoes”, and you go to a rally and say “I really hate tomatoes”, you have every right to go and say that by the first Amendment… it does not prevent your private employer from firing you because you broke company policy.

    I don’t see anything in what you posted that someone who couldn’t get a nice clear shot of the speech because of protesters has any legal argument that can be pursued. If you were trying to film, and a protester grabbed your camera and threw it on the ground, then you could file a civil suit for minor assault and have a chance to win that, but mere obstruction is no basis for a lawsuit of any kind. 1st Amendment only protects the right of a citizen to speak without censorship from the government, it does not guarantee a right to be heard (or filmed).

    P.S.
    and yes, I spell like Dan Quayle



  • Double post on an edit.


  • 2019 2018 2017 '16 '15 '14 '12

    As an attorney, I can say Wolfshanze hit it on the nose….

    The 1st Amendment is a unilateral prohibition on government not private citizens.  (Something totally lost on the “campaign finance reform,” anit-free speech people.)

    Thus if the person who blocked was in a public space blocking another private person, then there is no issue unless it could constitute assault/harassment, which it doesn’t sound like–although there is fine line there.  If you keep blocking with intent to block, that could be seen as a threat of force.  But any such analysis depends on particular circumstances.


  • 2019 2018 2017 '16 '15 '14 '12

    Although, Wolfshanze may be pressing it too hard in the employment context.

    There is no right to free speech at work, EXCEPT if you are talking about “workplace conditions”… which is what the whole recent Google fiasco was about with that engineer who published that manifesto arguing girls aren’t as good as boys in programing thus the affirmative action programs were a drag.


  • 2018 2017

    What you are actually talking about is called a “vertical easement”, that is the right to have light and air reach you (as in a building).  There is such a right, where it is recognized (NYC, other highly regulated and overbuilt cities).    But that right is very limited, to those situations, because the tradition is that your neighbors could build as high and thick as they wanted on their parcels;  even if that left you completely blocked off from sun and air.  They could also unlimitedly suffocate you with pollution, in the past, which is why that is also regulated today.  Today, the right to keep as much “airspace” as you had at some past time is recognized for some building owners, (but not members of the public).

    If I live in a city that does not recognize this CoA, then yes, you could completely wall my building in and surround me and the only way to get around that is to build higher and higher (which they then do).  Watch “Up”, for an example of what happens when this right isn’t recognized and eminent domain doesn’t operate either.  If a courts don’t protect a certain action, its pretty much not a “right”

    You have a right to walk around in public freely on public paths breathing the semi-unadultrerated common air.    Those are rights because courts have stopped people from infringing on those rights (such as fencing off a public trail or beach, or spraying the exhaust from your hot-sauce factory on a neighborhood–nuisance).

    Its a common right–everyone that has a ticket can get in the show but that doesn’t guarantee that you can see the stage or hear the music.  Everyone can walk on the street, that right is limited–a hot dog vendor can walk on the street too, with his cart, but he cant block the street, or operate without a permit ensuring he follows food safety guidelines.  All rights are limited.  Few people understand this–all rights are subject to qualification because they don’t apply equally to all people at all times and they are always subject to the power of the state (you can assemble freely but not during martial law, which is legal to declare in an emergency).

    As your example suggests, you can’t touch me or touch my camera, you cant stop me from going into a public space.  Or anyone else.  So with those parameters, all the people in the mob are equally “expressing their rights” as they are “infringing on the rights of someone else (to walk on a quite, empty or unobstructed street?–no such right)” an the balance is that they are allowed to do that, as long as they otherwise follow the law.  That’s the balance.


  • Liaison TripleA '11 '10

    From reading everyone’s responses - it’s fairly clear the answer is no - it’s not illegal to block someone’s private filming of a public event.  Nor should it be IMO.

    I was watching the fireworks recently, and all the jerks “filming” the event, blocked the view of the public quite rudely,  and there was nothing to be done about it.

    That said - we can have ALOT OF FUN with the law here.

    For example - a person could get a permit from the city for filming, for the date and time of a protest, and that may give them special rights and privileges on city property to film.  Including having the police escort someone away from “filming areas”  or quite frankly, the right to hire a private security guard or firm to assist, if you have a defined area you can film from.

    Further - there is a fun “real estate” argument to have fun with.  Federal, State, City, Private lands could provide all kinds of legal powers and loop holes depending on how they could be used.  I love the Vertical Easement discussion above - I deal with that kind of stuff in my line of work; and whilst the law is generally in place for permanent structures, one could have fun applying.

    LAST - Protesting is one thing,  but SIGNS can be something else entirely.  I recall working in a computer shop and having to renew permits for having road sign advertising constantly.  Depending on city/region, one could argue that whilst the protestors have the right to protest, their signage does not have a valid permit and could be “confiscated”.

    Of course, some of these ideas put municipal/federal employees in poor positions, just to have one person exert their rights over another, when simply bringing a LADDER next time might solve the issue.  Some morality to consider.

    LOL this question gives me a contrasting last thought,  if I stood still on a street as a mob of protestors passed,  and then I couldn’t leave the area because the protestor mob had essentially surrounded me.  Have I been ILLEGALLY DETAINED?  KIDNAPPED even?  My freedom of mobility restricted?  Who gets sued?  Individuals?  the organizations behind the protest? lolol…

    And yes - you do have the right to stand in a movie theatre; or be loud and disruptive there; and they have even right to kick you off their property for doing so.



  • Something just does not seem right here.

    I think intent should be the key here.  Lets say you are at a public park wanting to see the fireworks.  You obviously do not have the right to view the fireworks, but I do think you have a right not to be harassed.  If someone in front of me is tall and I can’t see… too bad for me, life sucks get over it.  However if I am there and my ex-wife’s new husband is following me around and getting in front of me… that’s harassment.  Same is true with the signs IMO.  If someone has a sign that is blocking you too bad, move.  But once you move and they follow you with the intention of blocking you… that’s not right.

    And if it is ok to do that than can I get keep jumping in front of the camera of “Bad Boyz 3”, or keep hitting a blow horn every time they are trying to film?  How about if it is a news organization?  Can these jerks shut down the press?

    Perhaps phrased as a first amendment right was not the way to look at it.  Are people allowed to harass others with this kind of behavior?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LwrZhLDsV2Y


  • 2018 2017

    a person could get a permit from the city for filming, for the date and time of a protest, and that may give them special rights and privileges on city property to film.

    This was my next anecdote–-I was in NYC in 2004 or so and they were filming Spider Man 3 with Toby McGuire right on Times Square.  They obviously had a permit, dozens of studio employees, and tons of “stage managers” shouting over bullhorns, “keep moving, keep moving!”

    Now, if NYC gives them a right to film if they have a permit, that doesn’t imply anything else.  It doesn’t imply a sunny day, a proper looking building exterior, or those moving crowds they want for the shot.  They are literally monetizing my image, since I’m supposed to be one of the crown passing behind Spiderman.

    Like many people, this sorta got to me–if I want to stand and stare at TMG, I can.  (I did.)  I don’t care if it ruins your shot.  I don’t care if you have permission to film.  I also have permission to walk there, so I’ll do as I like.  The “keep moving, keep moving” was an irritation especially since this is nearly universal in NYC (I got screamed at by a bartender for standing at the pass at a crowded bar right before this).    You are using me as an unpaid extra and then implying that you have some senior or superior right to force me to walk behind your cordon or at the pace that fits your movie?

    They understand this very well, its their business.  They can tell me to do whatever they want but since they are filming on a public street and im not their employee, I can ignore that.  Might even be able to sue for appropriation of my image–so no doubt they use techniques to ensure that faces cannot be clearly seen (as Google maps)

    As to your example, if it is harassment (intent), then its not permitted behavior.  That line gets crossed as soon as the obstruction/interaction becomes personal.  And yes, the entire “FHRIT#” phenomena is based on the fact that the public understands its not a crime to shout obscenities in front of a reporter and they very much want to upstage them.  Because that is protected by 1A.


  • 2017 '16

    @Zooey72:

    Something just does not seem right here.

    What’s not right here is that you keep thinking what happened was illegal… it wasn’t. Rude maybe, but illegal it was not. Being rude is not illegal, and everything you have described, despite obviously thinking they broke some law, they did not.



  • @Zooey72:

    I was watching some protests, and it really doesn’t matter what the protest was about; however there was someone who was a counter-protester who was very peacefully filming the whole event.  Police were present and there was no violence.  However a group of the protesters walked in front of the guy filming and blocked him filming with their signs.  Can they do that?  I wouldn’t think that would be legal to do, but they did it anyway and the cops allowed it.  I wouldn’t even think this would be a state by state thing either, the First Amendment is pretty straight forward with this kind of thing.

    Anyhow, I would be curious to find out if anyone has the info.

    Thanks.

    He’s allowed to film it, they’re allowed to block it


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