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Taking Care of Business
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Old March 5th, 2009, 09:23 PM   #1
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Filming in public school

I work for an independent news service and was assigned a story to film a public school where legal intervention was necessary in order to fix some of the building maintenance issues. I was instructed by the principal that protocol was to clear with the superintendent, which I will try. But I was also told that the superintendent is "a dick." So in case I'm not granted permission, what is the best course of action?

I read in another thread that I do have rights to film in a public school, but even if so, I can't be barging into classrooms. Do I have a legal right to be in the yard, the halls, the bathrooms, etc? We're talking after school hours, and no shots of people, just building.

My supervisor told me I might have to do it guerilla style. I was once told that even if I didn't have permission before filming, once it's filmed, then the authorities can't do anything about it? Is there any truth to that?
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Old March 5th, 2009, 09:51 PM   #2
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I think you need to talk to an attorney.

I don't think you have any right to film on school grounds, if they don't grant it to you - which is why you will probably have to do it guerrilla style (if you do it at all). If I were you, I'd hook up one of the kids who attends the school with a small, 1 ccd video camera and get it that way.

People who aren't supposed to be on school grounds and refuse to leave, get arrested. They are not going to let you wander around and shoot footage of the buildings in this day and age of terrorism concerns - they just will not let that happen.

Be careful. This is a very tricky think you're trying to do and I don't think you have much legal leeway to do it.
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Old March 6th, 2009, 02:43 PM   #3
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I'd hook up one of the kids who attends the school with a small, 1 ccd video camera and get it that way.
This is NOT good advice. Getting a minor to do your bidding can get you fired, sued, and thrown in jail.

You can muddy to letter of request to the superintendent in terms of your intentions. You can also get footage from outside school property unless there's a Berlin type wall surrounding the campus.

Also any footage you get of security removing you from campus or any stonewalling by administrators is great stuff because it's dramatic and makes them look guilty as sin.
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Old March 7th, 2009, 12:37 AM   #4
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I work for an independent news service
Doesn't your employer have a legal department that deals with precisely that type of thing?

As I've said in another thread about cross-border shooting, never turn to second-hand advice for legal matters. Joe Blow who misinformed you on an internet forum won't bail you out if you get detained.

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Old March 7th, 2009, 02:33 AM   #5
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Maybe

You or your employer do own the rights to any footage you shoot, even if that footage was obtained in a manner outside the law. So yes, you could shoot the footage and still use it- there are no copyright issues or anything like that. However, if the footage was obtained in a way that is illegal, that footage can be used as evidence against you.

Shooting in a school or on private property without permission is always surrounded by all sorts of interesting legal questions. How much trouble you can get in, and exactly what rights you have can very much depend on prior conversations that were had, what they asked you not to do and what you said to them, and the individual laws in your state.

What you want to do is absolutely pushing against legally permissible. Even if it turns out you are in the clear, you are still pushing things to the point that you probably would need a lawyer anyway. Most news services have legal departments and yours should be able to advise you. Most news organizations usually also have their own standards and practices regarding how their journalists go about covering a story, so I would suggest you check and see what your organization's practices are and what your legal department has to say.
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Old March 7th, 2009, 03:19 AM   #6
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Shooting in a school or on private property without permission is always surrounded by all sorts of interesting legal questions. How much trouble you can get in, and exactly what rights you have can very much depend on prior conversations that were had, what they asked you not to do and what you said to them, and the individual laws in your state.
This is true, and verbal agreements are legally binding in theory but unless they have a paper trail they won't get very far legally. The classic "He said she said" situation. I've shot at schools with informal verbal permission from the administration and never had issues.
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Old March 7th, 2009, 09:27 AM   #7
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Talk to your local film commissioner. They should be willing to help you get permission. Here in my county, the film people are actually the ones who grant the permission on any county/government property (which by law I have a legal right to film on since it's "public" property.) The thing is, if the school system won't let a member of the press shoot inside the school, there is another story about the system limiting the freedom of the press...and that never goes down in a good way for them!

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Old March 7th, 2009, 05:52 PM   #8
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Thanks for all the advice. Just to clear a few things up. We are a very small news service and do not have a legal "department," which is why I'm posting here for advice. There might be "a" lawyer the company could refer me to but I imagine they would consult against any guerilla style filming which is what my supervisor suggested. Also, this is not an expose' type of story. In fact, it should be beneficial to the school showing that improvements are being made. The district might not see it that way as it might lead to more complaints from other schools asking for similar improvements.

Let's look at it this way, if the superintendent tells me we can't do that or ignore my request, what can I say in response to assert my freedom of press and get access?
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Old March 7th, 2009, 09:36 PM   #9
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Min,

Freedom of the press has to do with what you can publish. Not where you can go. The school has no legal obligation to let you on.

Look at it this way - because of Prop 13, schools find it very difficult to find the money to do repairs. Your best angle may be about the difficulty schools have in keeping the repairs in order and that a court order provided the refuge to do so. Anyway, you're likely beating up on the good guys here, so be careful.

I would check out using one of the students, if they won't let you on. Someone in this thread has claimed it was illegal, but at least one professional journalist that I know (who works for a major newspaper) claims otherwise. They laughed it off. Ask a few more questions before you take that as gospel.
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Old March 8th, 2009, 04:24 AM   #10
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I'm not going to ask the students, there are many issues with that idea, particularly this being an elementary school. The objective isn't to make the school look bad, just want to get a few shots to show the positive results provided by the legal service.
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Old March 8th, 2009, 02:40 PM   #11
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My supervisor told me I might have to do it guerilla style. I was once told that even if I didn't have permission before filming, once it's filmed, then the authorities can't do anything about it? Is there any truth to that?
As a former news videographer, we had to have permission to shoot on school grounds, permission to shoot inside the school and parental permission to shoot children. You could be subject to arrest for trespassing regardless of your "news" credentials even after regular school hours. You can legally stand on the sidewalk by the street and shoot all day long but once you step on school property the rules change.

Your "boss" is an idiot and not doing you any favors. If he's so sure it's a good idea let him go shoot it. Make sure he has his attorney on speed dial - he'll need one.
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Old March 8th, 2009, 08:30 PM   #12
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As a former news videographer, we had to have permission to shoot on school grounds, permission to shoot inside the school and parental permission to shoot children. You could be subject to arrest for trespassing regardless of your "news" credentials even after regular school hours. You can legally stand on the sidewalk by the street and shoot all day long but once you step on school property the rules change.

Your "boss" is an idiot and not doing you any favors. If he's so sure it's a good idea let him go shoot it. Make sure he has his attorney on speed dial - he'll need one.
In addition to potential criminal liability, coercing a 9 year old to assist in what's essentially an attempt to sell more newspapers, is unethical and exploitative. It's astonishing this point even needs underscoring.
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Old March 8th, 2009, 10:04 PM   #13
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If you were exposing a child porn ring, sexual abuse, corruption or something truly life altering, then you could possibly be arguably justified in going to great lengths to get the story.

Talking about guerilla style tactics in this instance sounds like the product of a teenager's over-active imagination.

This story is not even close to being worth that kind of effort. Involving a child in something like this is, as has been said, ridiculous, unthical, and would be pure stupid.
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Old March 16th, 2009, 08:34 PM   #14
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Have you tried to 'clear it with the superintendent' yet. Seems like that would be the most straightforward method to at least try first. Sounds like the principal has it out for the super or visa versa.
If the superintendent in question is Carlos Garcia, do a little research before calling him.
Tell him you're a reporter and you appreciate all he's doing for the public school system, yada yada yada.
The first line of your thread "a public school where legal intervention was necessary"
is a big red flag.
Do it the right way and get clearance.
And report back with the results, this is reading like a crime novel...
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