Just recently a friend of mine posted some rather stunning images on his Facebook page. While vacationing in Vegas, Réjean Brandt, a very talented fashion photographer from Canada decided to take the opportunity to organize a portfolio shoot. The photos taken at Red Rock Canyon were beyond splendid to say the least, and I quickly jumped on Réjean to get behind the scenes details for an article on this very site. The next day the images were abruptly taken down. Why? Because Red Rock Canyon threatened to seize his equipment if he didn't.
The model that Réjean had found on Modelmayhem had recommend the beautiful area of Red Rock Canyon as the perfect backdrop for their quick impromptu shoot. Taking just a camera body, two lenses and a reflector the small group entered the national park legally (paid for access) and quickly conducted the shoot in less than two hours and were on their way. There was no mention anywhere of a permit needed for photography anywhere around the grounds. Réjean posted the images on Facebook after he finished retouching them, and as a lot of photographers do on Facebook, he tagged the pictures at the location of the shoot, Red Rock Canyon.
A few days later he received a takedown notice from someone representing Red Rock Canyon.
"NotificationPlease find the enclosed copy of State law regarding photography on State property or of State property.It has become evident to us, that you have violated State Law and are now subject to fines.It appears that on February 15th of 2013 that you photographed a model within the State park boundries, that you have attached your name to such photos and that contitutes advertising and as such, is a violation. Per each occurance of every photo we find, your fine will be 10 times the cost of the permit, had you filed for one. Your Permit costs would have been $200 for one day, your fines will be $2,000 per photo that we will find. We will contact the local authorites in your province to insure collection of monies or the seizure of equipment.We will also be notifying the Federal Park Authorities of possible violations on their land as well.You will have 24 hours before this matter is turned over to the State's Attorney General for prosecution. to remove any and all photographs taken on State Property or of State Property without a permit. As the photographer, you and you lone are responsible for removing ALL photographs from prior receipients, internet advertisingagencies, social media sites, etc.-[---- Burke]Red Rock Canyon Conservation Group"
Réjean informed me of the email and promptly took the 'offending' photographs down. He, being from a different country, wasn't aware that he needed a permit, and while I do believe that ignorance isn't above the law, Réjean is human and all of us do make mistakes now and again. Feeling quite guilty he replied to this mysterious officer of Red Rock Canyon's integrity and offered his apologies, and asked if there was a way that this misstep could be corrected (IE: Buy a permit after the fact).
This was Mr. Burke's reply:
This is not a matter that we discuss. We are only the conservation group and we only notify the proper authorities. It will be up to them to discuss any terms.
If you removed any photos, there will be nothing for them to prosecute you for. In the future, please fill out the appropriate forms for the property you will be photographing on. Just about ALL public property, Federal, State, County and City, require a filming permit and insurance. Even some local homeowner associations require these, but that is a civil matter.
You were among 12 photographers who received notice yesterday.
Please note: Your pleading of not knowing is of no importance to us as we here are aware of property copyright laws of Canada.
Red Rock Canyon Conservation Group"
So, Mr. Burke is correct, you do need a permit to take photos in Réjean's case while inside a Federal and State Park, there is no argument there. I just couldn't believe the tone of the reply and upon further examination of the email that Réjean forwarded to me I noticed something. The email was sent from a gmail account. Now, I know that many of us use gmail as an official email provider, but the government doesn't. I told Réjean that I would do some digging to find out who this person was and if he was in danger of being sued.
In fact, not one person at the official office of Red Rock Canyon had ever heard of this 'Mr. Burke' or of the 'Red Rock Canyon Conservation Group'. Robert was concerned that this might be a case of a money scam to scare photographers into paying a permit fee to an organization that might not even exist. I searched for the group and found nothing. Robert was extremely pleasant over the phone and said that people always make mistakes and that the majority of the time they let things like this slide, since it wasn't a big production, but also explained the importance of having a permit.
If Réjean had indeed gotten his permit beforehand all of this wouldn't have been an issue. Robert and Jamie were more than happy to let Réjean repost the images non-commercially with their blessing, but warned that in the future he, of course, would need to file the proper paperwork. Rightfully so. They also warned that if Mr. Burke were to contact Réjean again to just ignore the emails. They wanted to let us know that they were going to try to look into the matter. I was happy to report this to Réjean and his photos are happily where they should be, on his portfolio and without the beautiful backdrop of Red Rock Canyon blurred out.
In closing, I hope that this serves as a good lesson to each of you as you read this article. First and foremost if shooting in a state or federal park always check to see if a photography permit is needed, this also goes for any location that might be in question. Second, if you do receive a take down notice, go ahead and remove the photographs in question, but also stop and do some research on the person sending you the takedown notice. Never send any money or equipment to someone if they demand it. Find the official people in charge of permits and see if an arrangement could be made, like paying the permit fee. Most often or not state park and federal park officials will be more than willing to work with you.
I would like to thank the Bureau of Land Management (Southern Nevada District Office) and the Red Rock Canyon Interpretive Association for helping us with the article. (*Only first names were used due to privacy).
Photographs used with permission.