August 4, 2004  ·  Tim Wu


Last week I went to a Black Eyed Peas concert at the Avalon in Boston. It was a DNC event sponsored by the RIAA, and at the doors, big signs were posted everywhere: “Absolutely No Cameras.”

The result: Chaos in the line, as people were sent home after failing cell phone inspection. The choice was to leave your phone / camera behind or leave the concert. People were mad. (“Where is the love?” they asked). So I asked the bouncer, “what’s this about?”

And he said “It’s not our deal. Its those guys [the sponsors].”

So perhaps this is becoming routine and I’m late to it. But can the idea really be (as this suggests) that cell phone pictures of a band are considered a competitive threat? There’s controlling, and then there’s obsessive-compulsive.

  • Chuck Ivy

    Great… I spent an hour this morning pooring through Pollstar to see who was coming to town, and emailing their labels and management to try to get photo passes. Soon enough, I’ll just use the same contacts to make sure I can bring my phone with me…

  • wade

    And earlier this evening the Black Eyed Peas performed at the release party for the Sidekick II which, according to the press release, features “a fully integrated camera, and flash, to capture those you-had-to-be there moments”…

  • Anonymous

    I keep wondering what people like that are going to do when implants for the blind get to the point where they can take still pictures or images.

    “I’m sorry, sir, but you’ll have to check your eyes at the door before I can allow you in to see the movie.”

    At Comic-Con a week and a half ago, I walked out of the Star Wars presentation right after they finished a ten minute list of things you couldn’t do during the panel, including listing just about every form of still, audio or video recording.

  • Thomas Hawk

    The banning of cameras at concerts is utterly absurd. I will no longer attend concerts or clubs or venues where cameras are banned.

    What is wrong with me taking my camera in to venues?

    I can’t stand that as much as I enjoy going to the MOMA in San Francisco that I can’t bring my camera in. This makes no sense to me. I would become a member in heartbeat and be so much more supportive of the museum where it not for this policy. If the point of a museum is to make art publically accesible, then why not make an image of that art work available to a guest as a reminder of what they saw. I can definately understand the flash issue and that it could damage the art and could appreciate a ban on flash but on cameras in general? Good grief.

    In a case of extremes on this one, earlier this week while dining at PF Chang’s China Bistro in Emmeryville I was asked by the manager to not take pictures in the resturant. Looks like I won’t be going back there — as much as I did enjoy the Chow Mein. There are many other fine establishments out there that will be happy to take my dinning dollars and let me take all the pictures that I want.

  • Morgan

    It’s also interesting to note – in their latest video they prominantly show a fan in the crowd snapping a picture of the band with the Motorola A630… It was such blatent product placement that I was shocked the video wasn’t just a long commercial.

  • rich

    It isn’t just concerts, either…I was recently ejected from a supermarket for taking pictures of shopping carts.


  • Kelly

    When asking about this policy once at a concert, I was told that the concern was not for the artists but was instead a condition set by concert “directors” who fear that other shows will rip off their set design, lighting patterns, etc. As if we’re all spies for rival bands…

    After spending many shows frustrated, I’ve finally learned to cope by hiding a camera in places where they still won’t frisk a lady, although I’ll admit, as security tightens, the possibilities dwindle.

  • rick webb

    I’ve been to avalon a thousand times, and just like every club, they have those signs there, but they never, ever enforce it unless the band or the propoters insist. in this case, the RIAA being the promoters, I find that not surprising.

  • Edward Lang

    It isn�t just concerts, either�I was recently ejected from a supermarket for taking pictures of shopping carts.

    The banning of cameras at concerts is utterly absurd. I will no longer attend concerts or clubs or venues where cameras are banned.

    What is wrong with me taking my camera in to venues?

    From these two comments I wonder if people are confusing public space, and private space in which there is a large public. Surely venues such as concert halls and supermarkets are private, not public, and that its the owners’ perogative whether or not to permit certain activities to be persued in those venues.

    As a semi-pro concert photographer, the two main concerns that I’ve come against when photographing on my own whims are that the use of flash will distract both the performers and the crowd — how many amateur photographers use cameras that permit natural light photography? — and that the promoters (and via them, the performers) are worried that photographers in the crowd may try to profit at their expense, through the sale of photographs.

    For the former, the “first three song rule” applies to listed photographers; should it then also apply to unlisted ones? Would you have been quite happy to leave the venue after the first three songs? For the second, video and audio recording devices are already banned, so to be consistent it makes sense to extend that ban to include all cameras, still or otherwise. Most digicams these days can record video… and those that can’t, such as dSLRs, further suggest that the owner wants to take saleable quality pictures…

    From that perspective, why is everyone so intent in ripping off the band and the promoter, as it were? Do you really need to photograph the event in order to remember it? Would you have cared about such a rule 5 or 10 years ago?

  • Anonymous

    Cameras should be banned because its “consistent” with banning recording devices? Is that really the best argument?

    And as for ripping-off the band, does it “rip off” the grand canyon if you take pictures of your vacation? Does it “rip off” your friends to take their photos? Its just too much control, and its unhealthy.

  • Anonymous

    Who the fuck cares about the “first three song rule?” Give me a break.

  • Shawn Abel

    Edward Long’s post does put some perspective on this issue. Perhaps the fear of bootleg profits is a little overblown, but theoretically I can understand it. The analogy to semi-pro photographers is valid, too, I think.

    However, I have to say that, in reference to the private venue issue, that it all comes down to the contract as part of the ticket. The news post reports that at least some concert-goers were surprised or disappointed that they were excluded, especially for their camera-phones. I would be too. I don’t think many people expect (yet) that such things will be banend from concerts, and that’s a problem. If I buy a ticket, I should know what sort of searches and/or exclusions I’m going to be subjected to at the door. If a significant number of people were surprised, then they weren’t adequately informed at the time of purchase.

    Whether or not my assertion stands up as part of property/contract law, I think it makes common sense and accords with fair and equitable business principles. Customers have to know exactly what they’re buying. It’s not fair if, because they don’t want their camera/phone in the hands of some stranger for 3 hours, they have a take a loss on the concert.

  • TNK

    Tomorrow, I’ll register a copyright of my own face, and the next time a video camera in the local supermarket takes pictures of me, I’ll sue the supermarket for copyright infrigment !

    Stupid ? No, just a bit too early, but wait a few years and we’ll be there !

    Conclusion : To get rich, be a lawyer ! (well, that’s nothing new…)

  • alfie

    Welcome to the future folks, proudly presented by the RIAA. Here in Europe, whether by dint of cultural virtue or simple numbers, there simply hasnt been the furore around copyright infringement (imagined or real) that there has been in the states, Im just afraid it’s lurking behind the poster of the next band I go to see.

  • Anonymous

    As I understand it, witches are able to extract archival-quality audio from any suitable photo.

  • craig

    Well I do think it is a little confusing when cell phone manufactures and cell phone companies push their “camera phones”. But yet, they don’t tell any one that they will not be allowed into a concert, a shopping mall or restaurant.

    I guess the next concert I got to I will just have to bring my sketch pad and pencils.

  • Kriss Craig

    I still have an ‘old-fashioned’ phone which does not come with a camera. For taking digital photos, I have a tiny digital camera which I can take with me wherever I’d like, or leave at home if I choose. My husband, however, has a phone in which he didn’t want the camera, but had no choice – the camera was in there if he wanted the other features. So, now that he has a camera-in-phone that he doesn’t want, he can’t take his mobile phone with him to concerts. Which means he can’t hook up with friends, can’t call the doctor should I go into labor, etc etc. I think people getting uptight about camera phones are a little hysterical – the picture quality is crap, they’re no good for much besides silly low-res postcards to send to friends (“look, I was here”), and taking them away means taking away communication power.

  • Thomas Hawk

    Edward Lang wrote:

    From these two comments I wonder if people are confusing public space, and private space in which there is a large public. Surely venues such as concert halls and supermarkets are private, not public, and that its the owners’ perogative whether or not to permit certain activities to be persued in those venues.

    Look, let them ban cameras. I will just use my freedom of association to not associate with them and deny them of an economic benefit… at least from me (as though they care).

    The Grateful Dead was one of the most succesful touring acts of all time and what did they do, the opened up their venues to recording equipment. The fans loved it. By embracing their fans rather than alienating them they profited perhaps much, much more.

    I can certainly understand a prohibition against flash photography as to the argument that it distracts or that it can damage art in the case of a musuem — but banning all photography is ridiculous.

    It may be the owner’s perogative on whether or not to allow photography but it is my perogative on whether or not to support the owner financially in his decision.

    As an aside, I’m very much looking forward to spending my money at PacBell Park this Saturday to see the Giant’s play where they allow cameras.

    I’m considering putting a web site up of public/private venues and the camera policy of each… at least in San Francisco.

    And yes. I do wish that I had photos of concerts that I’d been to 5 and 10 years ago. These are great memories that will fade with age and it would be nice to go back and revisit them in the future.


  • Jonathan Martin

    What the RIAA (and other associations [mis]-representing artists’ rights) needs is that memory-eraser gadget from the movie Men in Black. That way they could be assured that after the performance, you couldn’t rip off their production, try and reproduce the show, gain unpaid inspiration, or even hum a song, therefore profiting at the artist’s expense. This would work well in not just music, but all kinds of media — movies, TV shows, books, etc. The added benefit: “Hey, I’m going to see Return of the King today.” “Again? That’s the 17th time!” “No it’s not.”

    I know this is silly, but being in mid-management I’ve heard people half-joke (and half-wish) about equally outrageous ideas.

  • Anonymous

    From a friend of mine who works for RIAA and was at this event:

    Here’s the deal. Everyone had a great time. No “chaos” in line. It was supremely well-managed, and even the club’s managers said this. Said we were the best group they have ever worked with. And more importantly, the paper invitation said quite clearly and explicitly “no cameras allowed!!”….

  • Jake

    There’s a very simple solution to this problem– ban the taking of pictures, but not the camera. Most people didn’t bring their camera phone b/c they wanted to snap a picture. Nope, they brought it b/c they might want to talk on the phone before, during (a**wipes), or after the concert. And banning picture taking is a very effective way to prevent the use of flash photography at least.

  • Anonymous

    Next thing, you’ll be wanting to take pictures in casinos…

  • mike

    fine, ban regular cameras. in my opinion, it’s ludicrous and makes enemies more than friends, but whatever. But camera phones? They obviously have never used a camera phone, because those things are still crap. It just shows the irrational, robotic thought process that these people have.

  • thebassguy

    I am a NY photographer, and I shoot pictures of reflections, shadows, etc. for my fine art portfolio. Last week I was shooting a reflection in a puddle in the parking lot of my local train station.

    A police car pulled up and asked what I was doing and why, and demanded to see my drivers license. The cop wrote down all my info and said that they don’t want people taking any pictures near train stations, bridges, tunnels or landmarks.

    So for all you NY tourists…better off going where you can take pictures….possibly Russia!? This has gotten a bit ridiculous that anyone with a camera (or a phone) could very well be a terrorist, or maybe just a tourist!

  • Anonymous

    Contract law principles are useless as purchasers have no bargaining power. They are left with a take it or leave proposition in which even the “original” contract terms can be unilaterally amended by the seller at anytime because again the purchasers have no power and no realistic recourse when a breach has occurred.
    This is becoming an increasing problem not only at concerts; but in virtually ever physical marketplace. As customers tire of the restrictions, the physical intrusions, and the assumption that every shopper/concert goer is a potential criminal; some will reduce spending (me), many will migrate to the internet (my children) but most will probably tolerate it and justify the restrictions as a good thing. This, of course, will lead to further restrictions as when I attended a fake Beatles concert in a public space where the hired security demanded that EVERYONE SIT DOWN in the DESGINATED SEATING AREA and NO DANCING OR STANDING was allowed. I left, but the many stayed.

  • jim

    i’m a professional musician, among other things. i’m what you would call “indy rock” and have been since the 1980′s. [that puts me in my 30's, so i have all too much experience in this regard.] since there’s nobody promoting my music but me, i would LOVE it if people took pictures at my shows, bootlegged the performance and traded it on the internet, etc. etc. etc. it’s really the only way for small artists to become bigger artists without a massive record company budget behind them spending millions of RECOUPABLE EXPENSES on advertising. as far as the bigger artists are concerned – it’s their management, the record company and their publisher who all are concerned about their visage as property being uncontrolled; the artist just wants to be seen. and i think most of them would agree with that if you asked them. artists don’t get paid for promotional photos, at least none that i have ever heard of, unless it’s a straight contracted product endorsement of some kind. [which i'd also love! especially if it meant i'd get free stuff! but i'm not holding my breath.]

  • Damon Bacheller

    Until the hysteria moves somewhere else (say, sporting events with metal detectors), do what any normal person in line would do – when you see the crazy lady screaming “They’re taking our phones – or you have to go home!!!”:

    —> Just cram the phone down into your crotch area (or under your larger breast). Make sure you know how to take pictures without everyone being able to see the display LCD.

    I don’t remember Avalon ever copping feels down there for paying ticketholders. Then again, times are changing…

    What do I know? I’m just some guy.

  • Marty Cohn

    The three biggest lies:

    1. “It’s for Security reasons”.
    2. “It’s for your convenience”.
    3. “It’s for the children”.

  • Rui Carmo
  • Craig Chester

    I’d love to see camera phones go the same way as betamax and laserdisc players. Screw them, just another item people “just cant seem to live without.” Funny, that even though people could not take their camera phones in, the sun still came up the next morning, they were alive, and life goes on. Believe me, you can, in fact, live without a cell phone attached to your hip. You may realize that all of a sudden you are not one of the people that pat themselves down like they have just burst into a ball of flame after a cell phone rings in a public place.

  • A. Sceptic

    Any “Dead Heads” out there?

    Ain’t it too bad the Grateful Dead never made any money as performers. Naturally they couldn’t, because they allowed and encouraged people in the audience to record their performances.

    Since the audience was, thereby, ripping off the Dead, they couldn’t make any money as performers.

    Somebody remind me. What was Jerry Garcia’s day job anyway?

  • Dan Marbiol

    Cameras can be taken into SF MOMA – it’s more a case of getting the permission of whoever is running/sponsoring an exhibition or the owners of the artwork involved. It’s not always the easiest to get hold of them but once that’s been arranged there usually isn’t too much of an issue – I’ve taken my cameras in there more than once before…

  • Ashley

    okay… first off i just want to say that theres nothing wrong with taking cameras anywhere, my digital cam was $400 and I will be da**ed if I cant use it. I take tons of pictures daily because i like to… if i take a picture of a flower… its cuz its pretty NOT because I want to make copies & sell it to some dumb person. As for cams at concerts, who says i just want to take it of the band?? Theres nothing wrong with me taking pictures of my fiancé or my friends… I want pictures of US having fun. Yah I might take one or two of a band, but its for my personal scrapbook. maybe 2 people at a concert might somehow take pictures and sell them to a dumb idiot out there who will buy pics from someone… but everyone else shouldnt suffer! And by the way, those 2 people could also just find pics online & spruce em up & make copies & sell them. Are they going to ban printers from personal use?? If I pay for a seat at a concert, I should be able to take pictures. Im seeing whats going on & theres no reason why i cant record that for my memory when im old.

  • hello

    what the fuck ever its a free fuckig country assholes grow the fuck up and enjoy life!! fuck!!!

  • A concert going fan

    So wait, you mean to tell me if I take a photo of my favorite band at a concert that I can be sued for “copyright infringement”?

    I seriously hope that’s not true!

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  • jesika

    to me i say it’s stupid!!! i mean you buy the ticket you want to have memories with pictures and we can’t even bring cameras? hello…..