Wednesday, November 29, 2023


Say it isn’t so! Be careful what photos and videos you take in National Parks

Do you film videos for your YouTube, TikTok, or other social media site? If you shoot video on property managed by the National Park Service and your site is monetized, look out! Ditto for still photos that you end up posting. A recent court ruling says anyone who has the “intent of generating income” from video shot in national parks—and other lands managed by the Service—must receive advanced permission to do so. Shoot without a permit and post it, you may find yourself in the crosshairs of the law.

The simple act of photographing or videotaping a funny animal in, for example,Yellowstone, and then posting it online may once again be illegal just because a permit was not obtained beforehand.

Fine and permanent ban for video

We’ve covered this topic before. Back in 2020, a couple of young YouTubers, Kara and Nate, ended up on the wrong side of a permit issue. They’d shot some video on land managed by the National Park Service and posted it on their YouTube site. Their site was monetized, and although they may have made very few dollars, they ended up spending a lot for their error. The Park Service got wind of the video, and notified the couple that they needed to turn up and answer for their violation or face arrest warrants. In the end, Kara and Nate wound up with a $1,000 fine, and a permanent ban against shooting videos on NPS-managed lands.

Not the first “permits in the park” case over videos

It wasn’t the first time someone ran afoul of the “permits in the park” issue. In 2018, Gordon Price, an independent film director, was “nailed” filming in the Yorktown Battlefield in Virginia’s Colonial National Historical Park. Price was working on a film about unsolved murders. But Price’s crime earned him a citation for filming without a permit. Price argued, successfully, in court that his free speech guarantees were stepped on if he were required to get a permit. In January 2021 a court ruled it was illegal for the Park Service to require filming permits.

The situation didn’t end with that ruling. Last August, in a decision that flew under our radar, a court panel overturned the ruling. In a two-to-one vote, an appellate court ruled that Price’s arguments that his First Amendment rights were infringed on didn’t hold up to the court’s test. Essentially, the court said that while Price could have stood in the middle of the Yorktown Battlefield to state his viewpoints, filming them there and then later releasing the video was a different matter.

Judge Douglas Ginsburg wrote that because “a filmmaker does not seek to communicate with others at the location in which he or she films, the filmmaker does not use the location as a ‘forum’.” Having made this determination, the appellate court declined to apply a public forum analysis, and further held that filmmaking “is not itself a communicative activity; it is merely a step in the creation of speech that will be communicated at some other time, usually in some other location.” Rather, the court determined that filmmaking was a “non-communicative first amendment activity.”

Not just a free speech issue

The ruling raises all sorts of issues, not just in the realm of “free speech” rights. Freedom of the press is another question mark. Popular YouTuber and attorney Steve Lehto raises questions like this one. Suppose you and your family are shooting videos in a national park—strictly for your own use. Obviously no permit would be required. But suppose that while you’re on the scene, something newsworthy takes place. Of course, you film it. Maybe you post it on your TikTok account. You didn’t come to the park intending to shoot “commercial” video, it just happened. If you post it, without having a permit, will you be facing charges of law breaking? Is the media, no matter how “mom and pop” it may be, required to have a permit to report the news?

Park Service rules that may affect you

After the court ruling, the National Park Service was quick to reinstate its filming permit requirements. In late October of last year, the Park Service posted its renewed policy. Here’s the pertinent information:

What is “commercial filming”?

“The film, electronic, magnetic, digital, or other recording of a moving image by a person, business, or other entity for a market audience with the intent of generating income [italics ours]. Examples include, but are not limited to, feature film, videography, and documentaries. Commercial filming may include the advertisement of a product or service, or the use of actors, models, sets, or props.” That reference to “generating income” includes social media. The Service adds, “This includes individuals or small groups that don’t use much equipment, but generate revenue by posting footage on websites, such as YouTube and TikTok.”

Do you need a permit for “non-commercial” filming?

“Individual parks may require a permit for non-commercial filming if necessary to manage the activity, to protect park resources and values, minimize conflict between user groups, or to ensure public safety. Examples of non-commercial filming include, but are not limited to, filming for tourism bureaus, convention and visitor bureaus, student filming, and filming for personal use and enjoyment.”

Filming for “personal use and enjoyment” happily includes school graduation and wedding photos. However, if you’re a pro videographer, it would appear you’d fall back under the “commercial” film-making context, and a permit would be required.

What about still photography?

Here’s the NPS writeup: “In most cases, still photography does not require a permit. A permit is required for still photography only when: The activity takes place at location(s) where or when members of the public are generally not allowed; or the activity uses model(s), sets(s), or prop(s) that are not a part of the location’s natural or cultural resources or administrative facilities; or the National Park Service would incur additional administrative costs to monitor the activity.”

Mind you, a model doesn’t just mean a person. It could also include “individuals, animals, or inanimate objects, such as vehicles, boats, articles of clothing, and food and beverage products.” Doing stills for a “Sasquatch Soda” campaign? You’ll likely need a permit.

So how much does a commercial permit cost?

Much depends on circumstances such as how much equipment and how many people. You may be able to get a permit for free, provided you’re talking about just one person with a camera and a tripod. Increase the number of folks to, say, 10, a $150-per-day fee is listed. Fees increase proportionally, maxing out at $750 a day if 50 or more people are involved.

Of course, you may be in for more than just permit fees. Depending on what the Service sees is involved from your application, other financial bites could be incurred. “Liability insurance naming the United States as additionally insured in an amount commensurate with the risk posed to park resources by your proposed activity. You also may be required to post a bond to ensure the payment of all charges and fees and the restoration of the area if necessary.”

How does the permit process work?

Applications for permits are obtained from the Service office overseeing a given property. A multiple page form asks for personal information about the applicant, including social security numbers or tax ID. A “description of the proposed activity” and a list of equipment to be used is required. And a specific location of the shoot and the timing of activities are also needed. You’ll also be asked about how many people are involved, and the number and types of vehicles.

It goes without saying that a “permit” requires evaluation before permission is granted. The specific amount of time needed to analyze and grant permission is up to the individual park management. The more complex the operation, the longer your response time will likely be. Don’t expect you’ll be able to pull into the park, fill out a form, and start shooting that day.

Could be a “full court press”

The bottom line of the overturning of the original George Price ruling makes it tough for even “little guy” videographers. Price’s attorney says that since the case was heard before a panel of the appeals court, they will press to have the full court rule on the matter. In the end, depending on the outcome, the whole issue could become a “full court press” for the Supreme Court of the United States.


Russ and Tiña De Maris
Russ and Tiña De Maris
Russ and Tiña went from childhood tent camping to RVing in the 1980s when the ground got too hard. They've been tutored in the ways of RVing (and RV repair) by a series of rigs, from truck campers, to a fifth-wheel, and several travel trailers. In addition to writing scores of articles on RVing topics, they've also taught college classes for folks new to RVing. They authored the book, RV Boondocking Basics.



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Tom meininger (@guest_226664)
8 months ago

Photography is a 1st amendment protected activity they can not make you get a permit period, no mater what that judge says. If you can see it from public you can video or Photography it. National parks are public property

JS (@guest_226485)
8 months ago

Good read – (Edit – the graphic for the legal case says “Gordon”, your article says “George”.)

Last edited 8 months ago by JS
Diane McGovern
8 months ago
Reply to  JS

Thanks, JS! It’s been corrected. Have a great day. 😀 –Diane at

JC Jones (@guest_225298)
8 months ago

Keep in mind this applies to all public lands such as the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, etc.
If you make money off our public lands or create a nuisance while filming then you need a permit, period!
I’m sick of seeing drones and photo shoots everywhere where they are not appropriate or not even allowed.

Bobby Bouchet (@guest_226956)
8 months ago
Reply to  JC Jones

Too bad. People can still take photos or film for personal use so it isn’t going anywhere. Most people aren’t monetized on tiktok either so that still goes. Suck it up buttercup. Recording is going nowhere.

Mike (@guest_224984)
9 months ago

The permit process is to manage people doing stupid or inappropriate things for profit. Small time 1 or 2 person shoots get the permits for free. Thank idiots abusing the system for the rules.

The big complaint from K&N was they didn’t want to bother with planning ahead for permits. They also ran drones illegally in countries with the idea they would be gone before the authorities got wind of what they did.

Bobby Bouchet (@guest_226958)
8 months ago
Reply to  Mike

It is not “free”. The application fee is $100 for Grand Canyon.

SLR (@guest_224843)
9 months ago

EVERYTHING online makes money for someone. So, I guess we’re back to sharing hard-copy prints? What a terrible decision this is.

Mike (@guest_224985)
9 months ago
Reply to  SLR

Nope, just get the free permit if you aren’t doing a big production.

Jessica (@guest_225203)
8 months ago
Reply to  Mike

The permit may be free but the non-refundable application at many parks is well over $100

Bobby Bouchet (@guest_226959)
8 months ago
Reply to  Mike

Application fee is $100

Linda C (@guest_224840)
9 months ago

Public lands should be able to be used by the public.
Highway robbery!

rvgrandma (@guest_224797)
9 months ago

I totally agree with the commercial uses but for the average person – no. It can take months to get the permit plus how many average youtubers have the $750 for a permit?

Many youtube nomads and others travel filming the sites then post it on their youtube channel. Some are monetized youtubers, others are not. They visit NP taking videos of the beauty sharing with their youtube channel fans. If you are traveling and sightseeing are you going to think months ahead to what you might find to film or what picture you snap posting on social media? And what if you post a picture on social media then someone takes that photo printing it for profits?

Mike (@guest_224983)
9 months ago
Reply to  rvgrandma

$750 would imply a large crew of staff…your small time YouTuber, is 1 or 2 people and assume a simple shoot, permit is free.

Bobby Bouchet (@guest_226960)
8 months ago
Reply to  Mike

Not free. Application Fee $100

Alex (@guest_224719)
9 months ago

Flying a drone in National Parks, monetized content or not, punishable by $10,000 fine! Unfortunately states, counties and cities have adopted similarly restrictive policies for public areas. Consider due diligence before investing in aerial drone photography. You may find you are limited to your yard AND ONLY IF neighbors don’t complain.

STEVE (@guest_224654)
9 months ago

Permits have been required for years to be able to commercially film or photograph weddings or other activities in the monuments in D.C.

SteveAustin (@guest_224608)
9 months ago

Just follow the rules, get a permit, don’t be a nuisance to other park visitors, and don’t alter the park. It’s not that challenging. Without those rules, visiting a park could be a much less enjoyable experience (picture large film trucks and crews, lights and cables laying everywhere, “models” posing in front of the best views for hours, etc.).

Bobby Bouchet (@guest_226961)
8 months ago
Reply to  SteveAustin

I have viewership of 60000 on youtube and I use an iphone. Exactly how am I bothering you or anyone else with my phone recording? Most youtubers are like me.

Linda (@guest_224603)
9 months ago

That attorney/YouTuber is Steve Lehto, not Matt

Roger Christianson (@guest_224741)
9 months ago
Reply to  Linda

Yes, exactly. Reporters need to do a better job.

Diane McGovern
9 months ago

My apologies for not catching that error when I proofed the post, Roger and Linda. It’s been corrected. Thank you. Have a great day. 😀 –Diane at

Tommy Molnar (@guest_224597)
9 months ago

I originally wrote a longer response to this but decided to delete it. I’ll just say I see this as more government overreach. I agree with Robin below.

STEVE (@guest_224659)
9 months ago
Reply to  Tommy Molnar

I disagree with both of you. Allowing commercial activity to occur without oversite can ruin the scenic or historical value of a park or monument. These places belong to ALL Americans, not just commercial entities.

Bobby Bouchet (@guest_226962)
8 months ago
Reply to  STEVE

You don’t even know there is $100 application free so why should I care about what you think,

Jodie111 (@guest_224578)
9 months ago

If your intent is to make content for your social media account that you generate income from , it is absolutely fair for you to get a permit. It’s on the parks website clear as day.

Marco (@guest_224563)
9 months ago

Same rule applies to state parks. In Colorado, if you are producing a video or photo shoot for a business, you must apply to the park manager for permitting. Sounds fair to me.

Robin P (@guest_224553)
9 months ago

just another power, control and greed move by a government office, everyone wanting a piece of the pie so to speak

Joe Goomba (@guest_224752)
9 months ago
Reply to  Robin P

Oh brother…

Bobby Bouchet (@guest_226963)
8 months ago
Reply to  Robin P

Agreed. Amazing the people who love big government until they trample on their rights.

Cancelproof (@guest_224519)
9 months ago

I believe that permitting only applies if you are monetizing a product you produce, no different than selling T-Shirts in Yellowstone without a permit. My question would be for MTV or other networks that grab funny videos or material from the internet and then broadcast them for profit. 1st person producers can’t, but possibly a 2nd and 3rd persons can grab it and monetize the content, no matter where it was created. Once it’s in the public space, on the internet, it is no longer private property and can then be used for profit?

Joe Goomba (@guest_224755)
9 months ago
Reply to  Cancelproof

Not correct. Just because something is on the internet doesn’t mean it’s free. There’s lots of content that’s copyrighted and reusing it w/o permission is theft. The “well, it was in public” is akin to saying because a car is parked in public, anyone can take it.

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