Fact or Fiction: It’s now FREE to Film Commercial Films and Movies inside National Parks?

This is actually now a FACT!

For decades the U.S. National Service has required permits and/or charged fees for commercial filming and photography on its land. For example, Yosemite National Park in California requires a permit, permit application fee, and charges for both motion picture filming and still photography. The fees are $0 for 1-2 people with a camera/tripod only and go up to $750 a day for shoots with over 50 people, which is still a pretty good deal for a movie studio.

Filming Star Wars in Death Valley National Park Image Source: nps.gov

However, just this January 2021, a D.C. federal judge has ruled that it’s unconstitutional for the National Park Service to require permits or charge fees for commercial filming on its land.

U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ruled:

“Mr. Price’s filmmaking at these parks constitutes a form of expressive speech protected by the First Amendment,” adding, “the creation of a film must also fall within the ambit of the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of expression. To find otherwise, would artificially disconnect an integral piece of the expressive process of filmmaking.”

Image Source: nps.gov

Judge Kollar-Kotelly issued a declaration that the National Park Service’s requirements “that those engaged in ‘commercial filming’ must obtain permits and pay fees are unconstitutional under the First Amendment,” and she issued a permanent injunction enjoining the permit and fee requirements for commercial filming and “the prosecution and the imposition of criminal liability thereunder.”

Who Filed the Lawsuit?

In late 2018, an Indie director named Gordon Price was issued a citation by two NPS officers for filming a commercial movie, Crawford Road, without a permit in public areas of the Yorktown Battlefield in Colonial National Historical Park in Virginia.

Does This Mean Mad Max Could Be Filmed in National Parks Without Having to Pay Fees?

No! Mr. Price’s lawsuit never challenged the ability of national parks to charge admission fees to the public, including commercial photographers or filmmakers. Thus, the Park Service could raise admission fees for everyone. Alternatively, the Judge specifically mentioned the possibility of enacting new statutes that are constitutional:

“In issuing this injunction, the Court observes that a more targeted permitting regime for commercial filming, which is more closely connected to the threat posed by large groups and heavy filming equipment, may pass constitutional muster in the future.”

Image Source: mapsofworld.com

That is, the Park Service could enact new laws that require fees that are actually connected with the potential environmental impact or other consequences of certain types of commercial filming, such as large groups of people or heavy equipment. For example, it would likely be constitutional to require fees to create and film explosions in a national park.

What do you think? Should it be unconstitutional to charge fees for filming Transformers 7 in a national park?

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