Source: Constitution gives right to photograph in public space

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COLUMBIA – The confrontation with a photographer during the #ConcernedStudent1950 protest on Nov. 9 violated his rights, according to an MU law professor.

Tim Tai is an MU student who was documenting the reaction after former UM System President Tim Wolfe announced he resigned for ESPN.

While Tai was taking photographs on MU’s Carnahan Quadrangle, a confrontation ensued between Tai and MU Department of Communication assistant professor Melissa Click.

According to MU School of Law Adjunct Professor Sandy Davidson, Tai was abiding by his rights. 

“If it’s a public spot, if it’s something like Francis Quadrangle, Carnahan Quadrangle, any kind of public forum, public street or a side walk or a park, the doctrine is called Standing In,” Davidson said. “Standing In applies to journalists and everybody else and here it is: If you can see it, then you can stand in for anybody else who might be passing by and you can see it, you may take a picture of it.”

She said this doctrine applies to everybody because journalism is not a licensed profession.

“We do not license journalists in this country,” Davidson said. “So, who is a journalist? That’s a big question because we don’t license journalists; we don’t have a First Amendment definition of who is a journalist. And now with all the social media and all, everything is blurring even more.”

In a viral YouTube video recorded by Mark Schierbecker, Click is heard telling Tai that he cannot take photos of the protesters. She is then heard calling for some “muscle” to help remove the photojournalist from the area.

Protesters surrounded Tai to block any view he had of the demonstrations and forced him behind the man-made boundary to keep media from getting too close.

“Immediately, there were people putting their hands in my face over my camera,” Tai told KOMU 8 News.

Davidson said the protesters on the Carnahan Quadrangle had no reasonable expectation of privacy because they were in a public space.

“A photographer has a right to take a picture of things that are occurring in public spaces, anybody has that right,” Davidson said. “Now, let’s say somebody says, ‘please don’t’ or maybe it’s more of a demand – ‘don’t photograph us.’ Now, we’re on ethical grounds. The photographer or any other person has a right to take the picture and then it’s a matter of ethical constraint.”

She said the United States Constitution protects the right to photograph in a public space.

“It’s also a matter of journalistic principles,” Davidson said. “Let’s say something is happening that is highly newsworthy and you want to document it for the public, for the people who can’t be there at the time, but you think they really need to know what is going on – the First Amendment gives protection.”

She also said the pictures or videos can get posted on the Internet without violating any rights, even if there are requests for no media.

“Can you take pictures of people in public places when they’re saying ‘don’t take pictures of us?” Davidson said. “Yes you can.”

Click released an apology for her actions on Nov. 10. 

Schierbecker’s YouTube video now has more than 2.7 million views.