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Taking Care of Business
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Old February 15th, 2010, 10:52 AM   #1
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Local Government meetings

I'm not sure about any of this, but we're trying to start things the right way, so I want to throw some ideas out for comment. We have been filming a lot of local meetings and questions from others about whether or not we have the right to do this came up. (Usually from elected people) From what I understand, we have the right under the freedom of information act to video public meetings like local government meetings ( city council, county commissioner, etc.). Hopefully this means state laws will not have conflicts with this. Any comments from people that have any experience with this would be greatly appreciated. Also, we have people that want council meetings filmed and are paying us for this. Then the city said they also may want copies. Now we have questions about who can pay us for this, can we sell it, and for how much? What is the best way to approach this? Small town, -we're not looking for big money or anything, but do want to be compensated for our time. We also might want to post the meetings on a local community website so people will have access, making our council & others more accountable. In this case of course,we wouldn't sell it, but would still want to be paid to film. If the city paid us for footage, would we still have control to post on a website, hand out DVD's or sell footage ourselves?
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Old February 16th, 2010, 06:27 PM   #2
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Public meetings are 'open to the public' - this means that seats are usually available on a first come first served basis. There are laws that REQUIRE that certain types of city meetings MUST be 'open to the public'. This only means that the public be allowed to ATTEND.

Since most city council meetings will be held in 'chambers' - the council usually has the ability to control who can film/tape the meetings. This might vary from jusristiction to juristiction.

Safest bet is to offer services to the city for shooting/archiving their meetings. They might be happy to hire you if you prove a reliable sort of person. On the other hand, they might just hire 'Uncle Bob' to come in and set up his camcorder at the back. One never knows what a council budget might include.

I direct three camera shoots for several municipalities that are also simultaneously broadcast live on cable - so I've seen A LOT of this stuff. Like watching paint dry, only slower.

FYI - SOME meetings will be 'closed session' - in which case the public and cameras are NOT invited. NOTE: If hired by the city- the recording they keep becomes 'public record' - which means that generally anyone can examine it. They might make it hard to examine, or they might put it in the public library.
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Old February 18th, 2010, 10:10 AM   #3
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Thanks for the input! So that would mean that any person should be able to receive a copy of it and do what they want with it like post it anywhere or hand out copies, right? And we would no longer hold any copyrights. But also that they could take the tape, but that's ok because we could still make DVD's.
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Old February 18th, 2010, 10:24 AM   #4
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It's a really tangled web, coming at the juncture of consitutional law, statute law, and copyright law. For something like this you really need to consult with an attorney with expertise in the legal issues and your local/state jurisdictions. Be very leery of going to the bank with any advise you receive in an online forum on such a complex matter.
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Old February 18th, 2010, 05:59 PM   #5
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NO Diana - that's not what I meant. Laws require certain city meetings be made 'public' - it doesn't dictate that they need be videotaped. Rules regarding cameras WITHIN a facility may vary - and are usually under the jurisdiction of the Council - who may NOT allow it. They may or may not allow you to videotape.

IF you are hired by the city to produce an archive copy - then they own the rights to it. As a 'public document' - it might be made available on a limited basis - it might be put on the shelf in a library - it might be put on a website for the world to see.

You can approach this a several of ways. You can HIRE an attorney to do some legal research - OR perhaps there is an 'accountants and lawyers for the arts' in your community and someone will do a bit of research pro-bono for a new start-up. OR you can go to the council and ASK PERMISSION to tape and sell the discs. OR you can go to the council - show them your resume, and convince them to HIRE you to tape their meetings, and leave it to them to distribute, OR you can show up - tape them and sell them - without permission - and 'see what happens'.

No one here can or SHOULD give you legal advice. I'm just outlining your options as I see them.
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