I originally had a more pleasant post planned for the weekend, but I was so infuriated after reading this article by my friend Kathy of A Passion for Food, that I had to post about it.
Kathy, who is a very sweet and classy young lady, stopped by La Delice Pastry Shop in New York City for an after-lunch dessert. When she tried to take a picture of biscotti, she was screamed at by the owner. In her words:
"I took out my point-and-shoot to grab a quick photo of the biscotti. Instantly I heard a loud voice from across the room, 'STOP TAKING PHOTOS!! HOW WOULD YOU LIKE IT IF I CAME IN YOUR HOME, INVADED YOUR PRIVACY AND TOOK PICURES???!!!' Shit, I was literally shaking. My face was bright red. And I felt like crying. The bakery was deathly quiet when I entered and all of a sudden it filled with a booming angry voice directed at me. I didn't know what to do but apologize over and over again and offer to delete the photos. The only thing I wanted to do at that instant was run out and never return. But at the same time I felt guilty. So I bought some biscotti in hopes of winning back favour of the owner...even though I didn't feel like I did anything wrong..."
I'm sorry. It's certainly the owner's right to request that photos not be taken in the shop. At the same time, there's no justification for screaming at a young woman taking a photo of a cookie. If this is how La Delice Pastry Shop treats its customers, I don't know how they stay in business.
It's easy to panic when someone starts shouting at you for taking pictures. Since a number of my readers are fellow food bloggers or amateur photographers, I thought I'd share how I handle these sorts of nasty run-ins.
Usually, when asked why I'm taking photos, I either claim to be a tourist (when not in SoCal) or explain that I write reviews for an "online food publication". If they ask for the publication, I tell them I'm not allowed to release it due to company policy. This is strictly true. When writing restaurant or shop reviews for Chubbypanda.com, I always do so anonymously and always pay full price for anything I review1. If I suspect I'm being given favorable treatment in order to influence me, I don't write the review.
I apologize for any disturbance I may have caused and ask if it's all right for me to continue. At no point do I offer to delete the photos, since they're legally mine. A majority of the time, these explanations work and I'm allowed to proceed. Some shops have been very nice and have even volunteered to remove items from their cases so I can take photos of them.
Occasionally, I'm asked to stop. If the staff is respectful, I am as well, and I still give them my patronage. Good food is good food, regardless of whether or not someone lets you snap a photo. On the other hand, if the staff is rude, I leave. I've never had anyone yell at me before, but I have dealt with serious assholes. I have no qualms about dropping some cash on the table or counter to cover whatever goods or services I've consumed and walking out.
Remember, as a customer, it’s your choice whether or not to give someone your business. In addition, photographers have rights in the US. In many cases, your rights actually trump those of the establishment. Bert P. Krages II, an attorney and amateur photographer who specializes in Intellectual Property law, has published The Photographer's Rights, a helpful online pamphlet. He has also published several books on photography, including the Legal Handbook for Photographers:The Rights and Liabilities of Making Images. If you're a food blogger or photographer, I urge you to read both the pamphlet and the book. It helps to know some of the laws regarding public photography in the States if you're going to continue in your hobby. Here are the basic guidelines I've cobbled together on photography in stores2:
- Restaurants and shops, while privately owned, are considered public places. The customers, staff, and owners have no legal expectation of privacy. That's what makes surveillance equipment legal in stores. As such, I, the customer, am allowed to take any photos I like unless...
- ... the restaurant or shop has a clearly posted sign prohibiting photography. In this case, no pictures should be taken. It there are no signs, I snap away.
- If asked to stop photographing by the owner/staff, I do so immediately. However, the photos themselves, regardless of content, are the property of the photographer (me). Any attempt to take my camera, compel me to delete the photos, etc., is illegal. The only things they can legally do are ask me to stop or ask me to leave.
- Food presentation is not subject to Intellectual Property law. As such, I don't need the permission of the chef to take, keep, or publish pictures of food. However, if asked to stop taking photos in a restaurant or shop, I must do so.
- The photographer retains all Intellectual Property rights over their photos, regardless of consent. This means I can publish, use, or sell my photos as I like without consent from the chef, proprietor, or any people in the photos. I'm also not obligated to compensate the chef, proprietor, or any of the people in my photos.
- In the event that I'm asked to leave, I do so immediately. Failure to comply makes me culpable of trespassing. I make sure I pay for any goods or services consumed. The last thing I want is to be accused of theft.
- As long as I'm not in the shop, I'm no longer trespassing. I can legally photograph the front of the shop and anything visible inside it. I find it best to place myself on public land (along a street, sidewalk, etc.) where I won't obstruct traffic.
It's always unpleasant when dealing with mean people. However, knowing the law and what you're entitled to do enables you to respond in the proper manner. Don't let people bully you. Know your rights.
1) The only exceptions are sushi bars or bars that serve alcohol. In these two instances, sushi chefs and bartenders will often "comp" big spenders with a little something extra on the house as a thank you. For example, when eating sushi you will sometimes be gifted with an extra piece of this or that. Similarly, bartenders will often repay a generous tip with an additional beverage, free of charge. This treatment is available to all customers based on the sushi chef/bartender's discretion.
2) I am neither a lawyer or a member of the legal profession. The guidelines listed above reflect my understanding how IP law affects photography in public places for food blogging. It is not a legal opinion and should not be taken as one. I am not advocating others conduct themselves according to these guidelines, only that they do their own research and become aware of their rights as photographers.