January 15th, 2009 at 5:27pm, we were harassed by the security of the US Bank building for about five minutes.
I haven’t been harassed about taking photos in awhile, but when Alex Orsburn wanted to go photowalking in the area around Civic Center and Pershing Square, I knew it’d happen.
A minute after Alex was up the stairs, as predicted, a security guard (Robert) came outside to confront us. The usual spiel spewed forth.
Them: “You can’t take photos here.”
Me: “Can I take your picture?”
Them: “No.” (At least I asked politely.)
I explained my right to take photos from public property, then reinforcements arrived in the form of a head security guard. He was pushy, disregarding anything I said.
I loosely quoted US Copyright Law, which states:
“The copyright in an architectural work that has been constructed does not include the right to prevent the making, distributing, or public display of pictures, paintings, photographs, or other pictorial representations of the work, if the building in which the work is embodied is located in or ordinarily visible from a public place.” [17 U.S.C. 120 (a)]
This set off the head honcho. He said the following:
- They already had photos of us. Unlike Alex, I never got near the stairs because I knew they’d come out.
- We’d be put on a special “list” and flagged as suspects. (Basically, possible terrorists.)
- He asked for my identification, but I refused to comply.
Me: “Can we take photos of the building from across the street?”
Them: “No. We own…” listing property all around the block we were standing on
Me: “What if I went in front of another building and took photos?”
Them: “You could try, but we’ll tell them that you’re coming, too.”
Them: “If you don’t stop taking photos, we’ll call the police.” (I believe that’s coercion.)
At one point, I could tell that he started to lose his cool, asking why I was being belligerent (or something along those lines). I didn’t know that asking legitimate questions equal belligerence.
He pressed his earpiece and said something into his radio. I walked toward Alex, asking him if we had to go. (We were just killing time before going to a party.) As much as he wanted to figure this out, he was leery about getting arrested — and we had to go.
Me: “We’ve gotta leave.”
Them: “Good, because we were just about to ask you to leave.”
We went to the Los Angeles Public Library across the street. Alex took one last photo across the street, then we went inside. We explained the incident and was told that the street and sidewalk belong to the City of Los Angeles.
However, since 9/11, they take extra precautions because it’s the tallest building in Los Angeles and is home to many different [international] law firms and companies. (Oh, come on!)
We thanked her, still fed up, we went on our way.
I won’t quit taking photos, but these encounters are such a drain. Maybe I should just focus on ignoring them, continuing to take photos — especially if I’m on a sidewalk.
Photography is not a crime.
Update 1/16/2009 12:02pm — Glass Steel and Stone website makes me feel a little better.
Watch out for the building’s security guards. They are poorly trained and believe their [minuscule] amount of power gives them the authority to restrict tourists from taking photographs of the building and of other buildings in the vicinity. They [...] claimed [...] that 1) U.S. Bank owns the public sidewalk and [all] of West Fifth Street, and 2) can decide who can take photographs. They are lying. [U.S. Bank, the owners, or the managers of the] building [don't] have any legal authority to restrict photography [from] people who are standing outside the building property line.
Update 1/16/2009 3:39pm — Thanks to Carlos Miller for blogging about this.
Update 1/17/2009 12:47am — I’m returning to the scene with friends to take photos, protest and educate people. We’ll meet at 2pm on Sunday, January 18th, starting at Pershing Square. Thanks to Discarted for spreading the word. (More details)
From the “Know Your Rights” section at Discarted:
- 1st Amendment Project
- Access To Places
- California FOIA Request
- California Public Records Request
- Know Your Rights
- Photo Law News
- Photographers’ Rights
- Photogs Guide To Privacy
- Privacy Rights
- Pruneyard Shopping Center vs. Robins
- Pruneyard U.S. Supreme Court Decision
- Rights of Journalists on Public Streets
- The Misinformation Conundrum
- Your Legal Rights
- Your Rights When Stopped