May 27, 2003  ·  Lessig

There were an extraordinary number of people who took up the Starbucks’s challenge. Check out the links here and lots elsewhere on the web.

There were many in the comments to the challenge who suggested there was nothing wrong with Starbucks exercising control over its own property. Of course that is right. And of course it is right that Starbucks should have the right to control people who are bothering people with their cameras, just as Starbucks has the right to control people who are bothering others with a radio. And of course it is right that Starbucks has the right even to be extremist about it — banning anyone who clicks even a picture of a friend, invoking mysterious claims about security or trade-secrets.

But if they exercise these rights to an extreme, then of course we have the right to criticize their extremism. We have the right to link their extremism to a growing phascism about photographs. (See the wonderful summary of your rights by Bert Krages.) For it is bizarre that we increasingly live in this world where every movement is captured by a camera, yet increasingly, ordinary people are not permitted to take pictures with cameras. This is yet another part of a growing obsession with control that seems to mark so much of this society. At a minimum, we have a right to take note of this control, and criticize it where we can.

That’s just what I wondered about when I read these stories about Starbucks’. I’m a terribly untrendy sort — I like Starbucks. But I couldn’t quite tell whether the extremism of these stories was an exception or a policy. And I guess I was relieved to read, and to find, at least some stores where the manager of a place that loves to imagine itself a public place was actually giving members of the public a freedom to feel like they are in public. I understand of course — as everyone should — that this “feeling” is just virtual. It can be withdrawn at anytime.

  • Mr Five-Years-At-Berkeley

    Well said, Mr Lessig.

  • Christopher Coulter

    Don’t you have anything BETTER to do than play Yuppieified pointless Starbucks tricks? Honestly. Power of the People, yeah yeah. Each Starbucks is under differing management, trying to grasp a political point and movement from provoking weary Starbucks managers. Wow, impressive political action there.

    Based on your �a freedom to feel like they are in public� concept…how about this? Movie theaters that are public, in which you can bring in your own soda and popcorn. Fight for that right. Why should they in a public PLACE have the right to dictate what the PUBLIC can do? A Movie house that �loves to imagine itself a public place was actually giving members of the public a freedom to feel like they are in public�? Imagine how long theaters would stay in biz. Part of the price ones pays. Or doesn’t, and then the market works.

    Want to click away? Go find a diner that has 10 cent cups of coffee, instead $4 trendy social �trade-secreted� coffee.

  • filchyboy

    Christopher your analogy is worthless. I do not pay to enter the premises of Starbucks. I do for a theater.

    The whole thing is silly until you are busted for talking a picture of your kids outside the gates of Disneyland.

    Why are you wasting your time complaining about someone else wasting their time?


  • jerry

    I like Starbuck (he’s only 30 years old) too, but I’m only on Chapter 36. Starbuck (I apologize if this is too long. I find the story rewarding, but lengthy…. I believe this is short enough to be fair use, if not I apologize and please delete.)

    CHAPTER 26

    Knights and Squires

    The chief mate of the Pequod was Starbuck, a native of Nantucket, and a Quaker by descent. He was a long, earnest man, and though born on an icy coast, seemed well adapted to endure hot latitudes, his flesh being hard as twice-baked biscuit. Transported to the Indies, his live blood would not spoil like bottled ale. He must have been born in some time of general drought and famine, or upon one of those fast days for which his state is famous. Only some thirty and summers had he seen; those summers had dried up all his physical superfluousness. But this, his thinness, so to speak, seemed no more the token of wasting anxieties and cares, than it seemed the indication of any bodily blight. It was merely the condensation of the man. He was by no means ill-looking; quite the contrary. His pure tight skin was an excellent fit; and closely wrapped up in it, and embalmed with inner health and strength, like a revivified Egyptian, this Starbuck seemed prepared to endure for long ages to come, and to endure always, as now; for be it Polar snow or torrid sun, like a patent chronometer, his interior vitality was warranted to do well in all climates. Looking into his eves, you seemed to see there the yet lingering images of those thousand-fold perils he had calmly confronted through life. A staid, steadfast man, whose life for the most part was a telling pantomime of action, and not a tame chapter of sounds. Yet, for all his hardy sobriety and fortitude, there were certain qualities in him which at times affected, and in some cases seemed well nigh to overbalance all the rest. Uncommonly conscientious for a seaman, and endued with a deep natural reverence, the wild watery loneliness of his life did therefore strongly incline him to superstition; but to that sort of superstition, which in some organization seems rather to spring, somehow, from intelligence than from ignorance. Outward portents and inward presentiments were his. And if at times these things bent the welded iron of his soul, much more did his far-away domestic memories of his young Cape wife and child, tend to bend him still more from the original ruggedness of his nature, and open him still further to those latent influences which, in some honest-hearted men, restrain the gush of dare-devil daring, so often evinced by others in the more perilous vicissitudes of the fishery. “I will have no man in my boat,” said Starbuck, “who is not afraid of a whale.” By this, he seemed to mean, not only that the most reliable and useful courage was that which arises from the fair estimation of the encountered peril, but that an utterly fearless man is a far more dangerous comrade than a coward.

  • John Daley

    Just take the picture and worry about the rest later. If it’s a good shot, it’ll be worth it.

  • Christopher Coulter

    The analogy is not worthless. You technically still have to pay at Stabucks; would Starbucks management appreciate you, oh say, bringing in your own coffee and ordering a pizza from a shop down the way? Your duration at said Starbucks is dependent upon your purchasement of said product. You pay.

    And in complaining about someone else wasting their time and not being productive, I am in fact myself being unproductive? Twisted logic. Then wow, I guess no one should ever have a differing opinion then, as we all are just wasting our time. Why then do we even need to comment at all? Just groupthink as one? Please.

    And if on Disneyland grounds, they have the right to dictate what goes on, it is still not a public space, just because you on are on the pre-entrance gate side. Now THERE is a worthless analogy.

    Allowing photographs to me, is just another form of indirect marketing to the chain. Why swat people down when they pass around �fun and festive� photographs at said establishment. It’s just some random meany overzealous managers, of which Lessing seems to want to generate into a full-fledged civil disobedience movement, of which ironically would greatly benefit Starbucks. A lesson in Economics, do things that hurt the income flow, rather than help. If the protest deals with more and more people going to Starbucks and eventually generates customers that weren’t already customers, they they will do everything they can to foster the ‘protest’. Protests should work against the Economics rather than with. Common sense. Not so common, it seems.

  • Lessig

    Mr. Coulter, this was a weekend frolic, not the revolution. There is an important issue here, but this was never intended to be anything more than most everyone seems to have understood it to be: play this space makes possible. If our aim was to shut Starbucks down, then you’re right, this is not the way, and I would not be the man. But this aimed at a more modest end: to reveal extremism, and let it pay the cost if it insists on being extreme. Apparently, Starbucks doesn’t insist. Good for them. Do we have anything “BETTER” to do?, you ask. Of course. Back to work. And sorry to have offended.

  • Simon

    I just wrote a companion piece that discusses issues of public/private spaces, here.

  • Sean

    Chris your anology is off on several more bizarre points.

    1) Bringing soda, candy or popcorn in a theatre would be more analogous to bringing in a cup of Qwiki-Mark coffee into Starbucks, not taking photos.

    2) taking pictures in a theatre lobby, last I heard was never a problem, taking pictures of the MOVIE, which is the product you paid to see is. But I fail to see how taking the picture of a cup of coffee would be anywhere even remotely same.

    Personally, I’ve been to Starbucks maybe once or twice in my 45 years….I have a more comfortable and pleasent coffee house locally that WAY better then StarSucks ever will be. This whole thing is NOT some political statement, it’s just making light of a obviously retarted sitution concerning the misconceptions of copyright law and consumer rights by a handful of over paid high school dropouts that run StarSucks.

    I would LOVE for a StarSucks manager to try and stop me from taking a picture of someone I’m with while quietly attempting to enjoy my overpriced cup of designer mud. I’d just keep snapping away as they rant and whine….and as they ask me to leave, I’d turn around and take another…just to piss them off.