Newly Introduced Bill Would Require Shutter Sounds in Camera Phones

On January 9, 2009, Representative Pete King (R-New York) proposed H.R. 414 (Camera Phone Predator Alert Act), which requires camera phones to be manufactured in a way that broadcasts the shutter sound a “reasonable” distance when a user takes a picture. According to the findings within the Bill, “Congress finds that children and adolescents have been exploited by photographs taken in dressing rooms and public places with the use of a camera phone.” Section 2.

The Bill does not contain any definitions or standards, and seems to grandfather all existing phones already on the market. Indeed, the sound requirement would only be applied one year after the effective date of the Bill, should it be enacted. Specifically, the Bill requires that all camera phones manufactured after that date may not have any means for the user to disable sound. The applicable “sound” is defined rather generically: “a tone or other sound audible within a reasonable radius of the phone.” Section 3.

The Bill provides for enforcement by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, with civil penalties set forth in 15 U.S.C. § 2069. It is unclear whether this Bill, if enacted, would provide for any private right of action (say, by the person whose picture was taken using a soundless camera phone manufactured after the effective date).

This may also have a minor impact in preventing piracy in the copyright world, since it is quite easy to snap a picture using your camera phone in a museum or other private location of artwork that is presumably protected by copyright. If the sound on your phone is turned off, and if the flash does not activate, it’s possible that no one would know that you made a “copy” of a copyrighted work, perhaps in violation of the Copyright Act. (Taking a picture alone does not automatically result in a finding of copyright infringement – there are substantial factual inquiries that must be made before such a finding occurs.)

Oddly, Rep. Pete King’s press releases web site makes no mention of his introduction of this Bill – although it does reference other Bills that he has introduced or supported. According to Thomas, the Bill was read into the Record when it was introduced and has been referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.