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February 7, 2005 09:47 AM

Broken: Photo ban on public sculpture

This article reports that, in Chicago's new Millennium Park, it's illegal to take pictures of "The Bean" sculpture... because it's copyrighted. In a public park, built with taxpayer money. Huh?

(Thanks to Cory for the pointer.)


Sometimes you are not even allowed to photograph your own personal property! Some time ago, I went to Forest Lawn Memorial Park here in Southern California to photograph my father's grave with a fresh set of flowers. I set my camera up on a tripod. You wouldn't believe how fast park security was on me! I was informed that commercial photography was not allowed in the cemetery. I informed them that I was only taking the picture for personal use and that nothing other than my father's grave was appearing in the picture. But that wasn't good enough. As far as they were concerned, the fact that I was using a tripod made me a professional photographer and I need to get a permit from Forest Lawn. Hand held photos are allowed, but the moment you use a tripod, you become a "professional" and need a license!

Posted by: Gary Edstrom at February 7, 2005 10:20 AM

I worked on a website that detailed taking photographs from all major nyc landmarks. I was thrown out of a bunch of place because of the tripod use. If you shoot without a tripod, no problem. I end up rigging a steadycam harness and since I wasn't using a tripod, never had a problem again.

Posted by: Joshua Wood at February 7, 2005 10:30 AM

They've pulled the same stunt with the Eiffel Tower. Night time images of the Eiffel Tower are subject to publishing fees as the pattern of lights has been copyrighted.

Posted by: Carlos Gomez at February 7, 2005 10:32 AM

I find it hard to believe that any of these activities are genuinely illegal (that is, in violation of copyright law), with the possible exception of the Eiffel tower thing -- French law may be different. It would be extremely interesting to see one of these cases go to court.

The common thread, with "The Bean", and the gravesite, and (I have to admit I'm assuming) the NYC landmarks, is that it was security guards preventing the photography, not police. They were probably misinformed by their superiors as to what was and was not allowed, and why. (The idea that using a tripod makes it a "professional" photo is simply preposterous.) Of course, this doesn't make the harassment of the photographers any less broken, in fact I would say it's more so. But it's not a problem with copyright law, and the word illegal is misleading.

If you check out the comments on the blog article linked to, there is more substantiation of this. In brief, copyright does not mean you can't make a copy of something, it only limits what you can do with that copy.

Posted by: E.T. at February 7, 2005 02:22 PM

In Prague, Czech Republic, there was a city police harassing anyone who tried to photograph our famous Charles bridge using a tripod.

It seems that the idea "tripod = commercial" is worldwide...

Posted by: Michal Altair Valasek at February 7, 2005 02:26 PM

Some places (such as museums) prohibit tripods because they are (or are thought to be) an obstruction or safety hazard. It could be that the reason for the ban is sometimes misunderstood by those enforcing it.

Posted by: mph at February 7, 2005 03:35 PM

Heh, I'm kinda slow today. I was thinking to myself, "Why isn't there a picture for this article? There usually is." A second later, I realized my stupid mistake.

I thought it was funny, at least.

Posted by: ssssmemyself at February 7, 2005 07:19 PM

What, no picture?


Posted by: PlantPerson at February 8, 2005 04:49 PM


Posted by: Bradley Dean at February 8, 2005 09:53 PM

Just FYI, it was donated by SBC Communications. Not that that makes it any better, but just saying.

Posted by: Graham Kaplan at February 11, 2005 10:55 PM

A tripod equals pro???

I own three tripods (one is a tiny one just big enough to stand the camera up on a table or the like.) I've never taken a picture for money in my life.

As far as I'm concerned, a tripod merely means more than point and shoot--but anyone who knows much of anything about cameras will realise I'm not carrying a point-and-shoot camera.

Posted by: Loren Pechtel at February 13, 2005 11:53 AM

That's illegal.

If it's made with taxpayer money and is a public place then it belongs to the public.

If they try to stop you taking a picture then that is a violation of some constutional right.

As for the tripos thing, just build a fourth leg out of bendy straws and tape it to your tripod, when they try to stop you just say "I'm not using a tripod, it's a quad pod."

Posted by: BOB at February 13, 2005 07:01 PM

I brought a picture of my great gradfather (from the early 1900's) to Wal Mart to have a copy made. They refused to copy it because it had a backdrop and was a "professional" photograph. The manager said that I would have to have permission from the photographer!

Posted by: Whiskey at February 20, 2005 12:44 AM

Since the copyright laws are created and enforced by governments and their monopoly on legal violence, this use of the term "privatized" is a misnomer. "Public property" is a fiction. Public property is that which has been purchased by government officials with stolen money to serve their own objectives; e.g., to buy votes or control speech ("public airwaves"). Sometimes governments permit the "public" to actually use the fruits of their stolen labors. Other times they use "public" property to crush the public: the tanks in Tiananmen Square were "public" property. This work of crap nicely illustrates the "tragedy of the commons."

Posted by: Nicolas Martin at July 29, 2005 09:52 AM

i enjoy poop too!

Posted by: Jeff at October 19, 2005 05:41 PM

Submitter is wrong. I live in Chicago, you can take a pic of "the bean" anytime you like. It is not, however, technically public property though. the land it sits on is, but the money for the sculpture (and over half the park actually) was from private funds. A single security guard may have been stupid and attempted to stop you, but the whole place isn't broken, just that silly guard. But when you pay people $8 an hour to stand outside with a radio and act as security (though you do have the great cops on segways there too) you don't get the highest quality of people.

Posted by: Timothy at October 31, 2005 05:09 PM

Nicolas Martin is a trolling douchenozzle.

Posted by: me at March 22, 2006 10:39 AM

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