City of Los Angeles Bans Photography at Public Park, Violates Constitution

City of Los Angeles Bans Photography at Public Park, Violates Constitution

Citing a contractual agreement with a band multiple bands at a free concert series, Los Angeles recently banned photography at any of the upcoming concerts scheduled to be held at a public park. The order violates the Constitution, which protects any United States citizen's freedom of expression in the First Amendment.

While a number of other high-profile run-ins with photographers taking photographs in public spaces have grabbed recent headlines, most cases involve a single government official (such as a police officer) demanding that photographs not be taken. Witnessing a city government — and a well-known one at that — creating its own rules in direct conflict with the United States Constitution is rare.

Los Angeles warns that the policy to prohibit "video, photo and audio devices" from the Pershing Square event will be "strictly enforced due to contractual agreement." Of course, the point is that this "contractual agreement" is one that the city does not have the power to make unless changes to the Constitution are made.

Dictating limits on recording devices is completely legal on private property, but this concert was scheduled in a public space. Both the bands and the city should understand they cannot and should not impose unlawful rules on the event.

According to SLRLounge, Los Angeles Collegiate newspaper photographer Cliff Cheng brought this to the attention of the ACLU after he was denied a press pass and any kind of permission to cover the event. The ACLU has written a letter to the City of Los Angeles, "urging it to adhere to the Constitution."

What do you think of Los Angeles' policy? Would you shoot the event regardless, or would you listen to the city's and the bands' requests not to photograph or record the public event?

UPDATE: An earlier version of this article cited the event as a specific concert with one band under contract with the city. However, it appears this is a concert series with multiple bands performing this Saturday, Aug. 12.

[via SLRLounge]

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Bruce Hildebrand's picture

If I had the backing and resources of a media organization, I would press the issue by photographing it. However, as an individual with limited resources, it would be imprudent, as I would be unable to commit time and resources to pursue the matter in the courts.

Robert Nurse's picture

And, this is just what the makers of such draconian policies are banking on: the inability to challenge the measure.

M D's picture

Living in LA we shoot in that park all the time. If there is a free show there many people will shoot it - no question.

I suspect they will try to enforce the policy, but hopefully they will instruct their security that they can't really do anything if the photographer invokes his constitutional rights. They can ask people not to shoot, but they can't fully enforce it or they will have a lawsuit on their hands.

Robert Nurse's picture

These days, I wouldn't count on that. In order for constitutional rights to be recognized by law enforcement, they have to respect the fact that EVERYONE has them whether they like it/them or not. Getting your camera (or your skull) busted while invoking your First Amendment isn't fun.

Michael Hickey's picture

I had this exact same thing happen to me a couple years ago. A band came to town and performed in a public park and tried to enforce their normal policies of no photography. Had I not been with my family because it would've ruined their weekend, I would've gladly taken the ride to jail to prove the point that they can't dictate what happens in a public space. The EMA who was doing security tried to explain to me that by them setting up it was no longer a "public space." Well, what they failed to realize is that unless it's a controlled accessa area, meaning walls, fences and secured's still a PUBLIC PARK and they have no authority to stop anybody from taking pictures.

David Mawson's picture

Isn't a public park land that is owned by the city and administered by the city government? In which case, it is in a legal sense also private land in a sense that the sidewalks outside are not and the city government *can* ban photography...

Did you ask a lawyer for an opinion?

Eric Lefebvre's picture

I'm not a lawyer but ...

It is PUBLIC land because it belongs to a public entity (municipal Government). The city bought it with tax money taken from it's citizens FOR citizens.

The city CAN rent the land out for specific events and then that section becomes private property during the time of rental (festival / concert / movie shoot ...) but unless it is a restricted access event (tickets being sold, fences put up) it is still a public access event on public land.

And no, this isn't the case in this scenario ... it's a public free access event.

David Mawson's picture

>> It is PUBLIC land because it belongs to a public entity (municipal Government). The city bought it with tax money taken from it's citizens FOR citizens.

The city hall is bought with tax money too. That doesn't mean that the city government doesn't have a legal right to restrict access. Which is the point I've already made, so making a post just showing that you fail to understand it seems a waste of time. Once again, "owned by the public" and "publicly accessible" are not the same thing even though the word public appears in both.

>> it's a public free access event.

That's irrelevant. The owner of a property can allow people access without charge but still put conditions on that access.

>> unless it is a restricted access event (tickets being sold, fences put up) it is still a public access event on public land.

You are confusing your opinion and the facts. The FACT is that you have just shown that legally the land is private space - otherwise access could not legally be restricted at all. That barriers are put up for paid events is not Law Voodoo to change the land's legal status - it's because without barriers, people would just walk in without paying for tickets. (Really, this isn't hard!)

It seems very unlikely that anyone's rights are being threatened hear. A band has agreed to play a free concert, and they don't want pictures taken. That's their right. And the owner of the land - the public, as represented by the city govt - has the right to agree to those terms and enforce them.

Robert Nurse's picture

Can the government suspend the Constitution without due process? City Hall is hardly a public space the same way a park is. There are reasons for securing City Hall. No such reasons exist (that I can see) for securing a park in like manner. I suspect that the band just decided it didn't want images of itself bandied about. Which we all know are solely commercial reasons. Again, not the public's problem. If the band wanted those kinds of restrictions, they should have rented a private venue. Then they could do whatever.

David Mawson's picture

>>Can the government suspend the Constitution without due process?

The question is not whether the city can suspend the Ctn, but whether the park is a public space in the same way a road is. Your next sentence shows you understand and concede this, so distorting the argument is rather pointless...

>>City Hall is hardly a public space the same way a park is.

That's argument by assumption, which is to say that it is not an argument at all. If the city can rent out parks for concerts and put barriers up around them - which it can - then legally, yes, parks are more like city hall than they are public roads: ie it has the right to restrict access to them.

...If you look at the ACLU official statement on this, it concedes that point. It restricts itself to arguing that the city has to show that there is a good reason for restricting photography. Which tendentious - basically the ACLU always has to say something - and easily answered even if true. Because in this case the concert only takes place if photography is banned.

Bryan Mordt's picture

Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.

David Mawson's picture

Nor are they created by wishful thinking.

..."Publicly owned" and "publicly accessible" are two different things. If the city has the right to fence off the park and refuse access to concerts without tickets, which we know is the case, then it has the right to refuse access with a camera.

Really, it takes a fairly large amount of stupidity not to understand that things are not necessarily publicly accessible just because they are publicly owned. What with the oval office and military bases as easy to understand examples...

Ann Quimby's picture

this is most definitely a public space outdoors. Americans have the right to shoot publicly on public property; without those rights, there would be no street photography or paparazzi. This article is substantially less informative than even the petapixel one. This isn't even a specific concert but a free series in the park run by the Department of Recreation and Parks. It's such an egregious violation of rights that the ACLU and the major photo orgs have all weighed in and contacted the city. There isn't a band on the planet that can override our Constitutional rights.

David Mawson's picture

>> Americans have the right to shoot publicly on public property; without those rights, there would be no street photography or paparazzi.

Yes, paps have the right to shoot on public streets, which are publicly owned property. That does not mean that they can shoot on ALL owned public property! For example, do you think they can walk into the Oval Office at will?

...You're applying the logical equivalent of "Fish swim, therefore anything that swims is a fish."

Robert Nurse's picture

The Oval Office? Come on now! Why not the Pentagon? Are you really comparing a public park to strategic military command centers?

David Mawson's picture

Robert -

I think the problem you have understanding this argument is that you are fundamentally and brutally ignorant of how logic works. I'm using a principle call "reduction to absurdity": the point is that the examples I provide HAVE to be absurd, so show that the claim made - in this case that public ownership equals unlimited public access - is absurd also.

Most understand this intuitively, out of plain common sense. But for to help you -

Those richer in common sense than you would also said "Hey - and I can't go in the Mayors office. Or the locked shed where the park keepers keep their tools. And when I go to the public library, parts of that are off limits too! Damn - public ownership doesn't imply public access; why was I ever stupid enough to think that?"

Robert Nurse's picture

There is one point that you've made quite clear on this thread. You have a good day.

David Mawson's picture

Ie now you are going sulk. And for some bizarre reason think that I will care rather than being amused. Okay....

AJ w's picture

I suggest....every photographer in los angeles show up to pershing square for the public event with their camera....what will the Pershing square photography nazis do then....not a damn thing...that group over there is an insane dictatorship in the making.

Pieter Batenburg's picture

This is a dangerous trend and this should be stopped immediately. Even in our country, there are some disturbing things going on.

Mark Davidson's picture

So go take pictures. Get arrested and fight.

Pho To's picture

I wonder if that free concert was Foo Fighters...they have been nothing but scumbags towards photographers, Especially David Ghrol....Using their photos and not as much as asking permission, giving proper credit, or paying the photographer......ok got that off my chest lol

Ann Quimby's picture

this is a free concert series put on by the city, so the budget is small. they aren't going to be able to afford to pay major artists, and none of the artists are very big. Definitely none on the level of the Foos. But it's unlikely that every single band submitted an identical rider to the city anyway. This most likely came from some misinformed city worker.

michael buehrle's picture

so what's gonna happen, is that they will not allow it at the event and then issue a apology after saying that they were wrong in doing it. nothing will come of it in the end. if anyone thinks that LA give a crap about your rights or feeling you are crazy. like most big cities, they do what they want and no one can stop them. the police or security will do what they are told (right or wrong) and will hassle you the whole time. i'm sure people are lining up to sue them now, even if they had no intention going to it.

barry cash's picture

Unfortunately the city of Los Angeles has many other top ten priorities on the list to focus on, but as this BAN proves the city is not functioning with a full deck and doesn't have its citizens best goals in mind. This is some single person(s) idea who is on a committee and got this approved because they were trying to show how smart they are, a effortless group decision due to sheer boredom in the meeting everyone caved and said ya go with it.

What about how to stop lookie-lous on the freeways to increase flow of traffic, homeless issues, additional police officers ( when I moved here in 77 LA had 800 officers NYC had 12000) were still understaffed by 1000's. fix the river make it playable, put restaurants on it develop it, dam it, sail on it and make it usable. When who ever wrote that memo to stop photography in Pershing Square can make the river work then I applause.

william mitchell's picture

I photographed concerts in a pasadena park put on my the same LA county org last year. Did not have a problem. I did not go last saturday because of the hot weather. Which band was it?

Ann Quimby's picture

this article is so bad that it left out most of the info. It wasn't a particular band. This is a free concert SERIES in Pershing Square. A number of not so big bands over the course of weeks. It's only news now because the ACLU and most of the photo orgs are now trying to fight for our rights.

chrisrdi's picture

I think photographer should FLOOD that event and take as many photos as possible. PHOTOGRAPHERS EVERYWHERE.

Larry Chism's picture

Where is the Paparazzi when you need them? If the event or person is in plane site, outside without obstructions its free game, if the event is in a controlled space, with walls or barriers the rules are different.

Jason Rogers's picture

I'm with AJ w and Chris Rogers. Show up with cameras and take photos. Here's the rub, though. Tons of people were probably there with cameras taking pictures. They just took those photos with the camera on their phone. So, did the police or security there enforce their contract when it came to phones? Was anyone who had their phone up and looked like they were taking a photo stopped by having their phone taken away, or forced to leave the event or tackled to the ground? Why is it that I see thousands of photos of bands and concerts at private venues or events on Instagram that my friends or other people took on their phones and the band hasn't sued them or forced them to take those photos off social media? There's a prejudice of those people who have actual cameras compared to those people who just use their camera on their phone. So, I'm to assume that I can be stopped or banned from taking photos with my Canon 5D? Why? Because spending more money on a camera than a phone, shooting in RAW or having a pleasing DOF or shooting on a tripod makes me a menace to society? It's not like I'm going to show up with my nice camera, take photos of the band, and then sell those photos for tons of money! Who would buy them anyway? It was FREE concert for criminy sake! At a public park! It's my legal right to go to any public park anytime, any day of year and set up any and all my photo and video gear that I want and take all the photos or video of anyone and everyone that I want whose at that park. Whether is tasteful or just downright stupid to do that is my choice. My right to be stupid or distasteful is protected by the Constitution, as long as it doesn't violate any laws in effect.

william mitchell's picture

update DP review has a letter that was sent to LA City

Karim Hosein's picture

here is the thing.

If the band does not want PUBLICITY via photographs, Don't hold FREE concerts in PUBLIC areas.

If the band wants PRIVACY, they can PAY for a PRIVATE venue and CHARGE an admission fee.

The band cannot have their cake and eat it too, by getting PUBLICITY for a FREE concert but restricts RIGHTS of the people.

You either get your PUBLICITY for FREE or get your PRIVACY at a PRICE.

Yes, I am aware that they paid the city for the venue, but they are still having a FREE concert in a PUBLIC place with PUBLIC ACCESS.

They could just as well had rented the Staples Center and given a free concert, where they can limit what comes in and out, but they have to be consistent and ban all cell phones, tablets, spy pens, spy glasses, body cams, dash cams, plus any and all other devices with attached cameras.

The band cannot have their cake and eat it. They made an unenforceable contract with unreasonable demands.

In the state of Georgia, this means that if the contract is challenged, the contract is voided and any monies or valuable considerations which have already changed hands, remain where they are, and no other valuable considerations can be demanded, except by the party given the unreasonable demand. But this is not Georgia; this is California. I don't know the law there.

Ann Quimby's picture

this is a terrible article. this was not a concert sponsored by any band, but a free concert series put on by the city itself. so really, it's not a band to blame; there are numerous bands who have no say whatsoever over the right to shoot in public.

Karim Hosein's picture

The city claimed that they have to restrict photographs due to their contractual agreement. Why would the city make that claim if they did not contract with the bands to not allow photographs? Why would they even offer that? That is a request of the band, not the city.

Drew Pluta's picture

Just wondering if this would result in a wrongful arrest case or some sort of civil rights violation suit worth big money to the plaintiff. Could be worth a night in the clink.

Michael Coen's picture

To me this issue seems pretty cut and dry: If you want to give a concert and retain control over certain aspects, like photography, then hold your concert in a private venue. "But it's free, so why complain? Why not simply leave your camera at home?" These are some of the common arguments in favor that I've read so far, and they're not necessarily wrong. This has less to do with being able to photograph, and more about our elected officials here in Los Angeles entering into contracts whose language seeks to circumvent the First Amendment. The city has zero authority to impinge on this form of speech. These are public parks – we paid for them. The salaries of the officers in charge of public safety are paid by us. The janitors that have to go in and clean up afterwards are paid by us. The bill for the upkeep (lawns, gardens, water, water treatment) is footed by us. The City has neither the right nor the authority to dictate this form of speech.