If you want to film your adventures in a national park, you might need to do some research first. Failing to get the correct permits could cost you heavy fines and even jail time.
So how do you know if you need a license?
Today, we’re exploring the restrictions on content creators at some of America’s most popular attractions.
National Park Service Reverses Commercial Filming Requirements
The National Park Service (NPS) has implemented new rules for visitors looking to film in national parks. The main change is that any filming for commercial purposes requires a permit. They define “commercial purposes” as videos intended for a market audience or to generate income.
And these aren’t just park rules. They’re actually federal laws. Content creators who film without a permit can face fines of up to $500 and six months in jail.
While individuals like influencers fall into these categories, NPS states that they implemented these rules with film crews in mind. More specifically, they target those who utilize sets, lighting, and a team of people.
Some visitors have complained that the wording of the rules is unclear. In fact, NPS makes it sound like they won’t seek out individuals even though the laws clearly state they fall into this “marketing” category.
In 2021, these rules were deemed unconstitutional on the basis of violating free speech. However, in 2022 NPS went back to court and argued for the reinstatement of the laws.
They stated the rules didn’t include content regulations, and their main concern was the creators’ ecological impact. NPS won the case, and the laws were reinstated.
What Is the National Park Service?
Yellowstone became America’s first national park in 1872, with dozens of parks created in the following decades. At the time, national parks were under the control of the Department of the Interior, but they delegated management of the lands to different authorities.
This fragmented approach meant no one government body was ensuring the preservation and protection of these parks.
So in 1916, President Woodrow Wilson established the National Park Service. The primary goal of NPS remains to maintain natural and cultural resources.
Can Creators Film in National Parks?
Content creators can still film in national parks, but several stipulations exist. Anyone posting videos to YouTube, TikTok, or other revenue-producing sites must obtain a permit. YouTubers who create an account on the site must consent to the platform’s terms and conditions.
So in the eyes of the law, their content is commercial even if they aren’t making money off it. For social media sites, it all comes down to the platform itself rather than how each user utilizes it.
Have Creators Been Punished for Filming in National Parks?
Content creators Kara and Nate earn a living traveling around the country and documenting their adventures on their YouTube channel. In 2020, an anonymous tipster reported them to NPS for failure to obtain a filming permit. The two were fined $1,000 and prohibited from filming in national parks unless they got a license.
The incident was a blow to their livelihoods, and they had to reconsider their lifestyle.
While getting a permit sounds simple enough, that isn’t the case for nomads. The laws are written (and priced!) for production companies with large budgets, heavy equipment, industrial lights, and crews of people. It isn’t feasible for an individual with a handheld camera to purchase a permit for every visit throughout a road trip.
Do You Need a Permit to Record in National Parks?
Although the wording of the laws on the NPS website is confusing, anyone filming in a national park for commercial purposes must obtain a permit. If you’re posting to your personal website or private Facebook page, you’re probably OK.
But anyone uploading video content for YouTube, TikTok, or any other revenue-generating site can be fined for skipping this step.
Do You Need a Permit for Still Photography in National Parks?
In contrast to video recording, NPS doesn’t require permits for shooting still photos except in particular circumstances. Photography requires a permit if it’s in restricted areas, could disturb the environment, or might cost the park money to oversee.
This discrepancy has caused content creators to question whether or not it’s constitutional to require permits for one and not the other since both are expressions of free speech.
How Do You Get a Permit to Record in National Parks?
To obtain a permit to film, you’ll need to go to the website of the national park you plan to visit. You may have to wait up to six weeks for approval, so apply as early as possible. And don’t forget your detailed location schedule.
Fees vary from park to park. Application fees range from $40 to $300. The daily cost for filming can be $50 or $750, depending on how many people are in your crew.
This system may work well for production crews working on movie sets. However, it’s unnecessarily rigid and prohibitively expensive for digital nomads.
Is There Hope for Content Creators?
Content creators are banding together to reverse the court’s decision. In fact, Gordon Price, a filmmaker sued by NPS for his use of a national park in his movie Crawford Road has filed an appeal to have the permit statute overturned.
Grassroots movements are popping up online. Many creators encourage viewers to call their congress members and even write the US president to voice their concerns. Within these groups, alternative ideas like yearly media passes are becoming popular.
Working Towards Future Reform
Vloggers have gotten a raw deal when it comes to filming in national parks. The current laws simply don’t account for this demographic.
Folks who spend their lives on the road and share their travels with the world want to encourage others to visit America’s national parks, but the current system makes that nearly impossible. Fortunately, content creators are coming together to create reform and pave the way for other visitors to film respectably.
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