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DROP THIS PHOTO-LICENSING PLAN

The Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service should retreat, once and for all, from plans to require permits of professional photographers who shoot pictures on public lands.

Otherwise, not only will they be violating the First Amendment, they almost certainly will spark lawsuits from professional photographers.This page has consistently opposed a revenue-generating proposal to make photographers pay to shoot the natural beauty of Utah's public lands. Last year, officials at the BLM and Forest Service began enforcing the policy, going so far as to send notices to a Deseret News photographer. Later, they recanted, claiming such a policy never existed, and started a period of hearings and public comments in an effort to draft a new set of regulations.

Now, the comment period is over and officials apparently still are clinging to a proposal that would require permits, at least from professional photographers. Officials insist the proposal won't affect news photographers, but that hardly makes it right.

Reporters, photographers and others who constitute the professional media deserve no privileges or restrictions other than those applied to the public at large. Courts have consistently interpreted the Constitution's First Amendment as a prohibition against the licensing of any person or group that disseminates information.

Once government begins licensing or issuing permits, it also can begin denying privileges on the basis of content.

Photographers capturing the splendor of public lands are no different from writers or painters who, in their own ways, attempt to do the same. Nor should the photos they sell be treated any differently than pictures in a newspaper or on a television program or, for that matter, than the snapshots taken by a tourist.

Ostensibly, the proposal is meant as a mechanism to recover the cost of using public resources. The federal government would be within its rights to demand payment from film crews and others whose equipment impacts the environment. However, capturing light on film doesn't create an expense for taxpayers.

This proposal is arbitrary and nonsensical. The BLM and Forest Service should look for some other way to increase their budgets.