Update: Uncommon Grounds deleted every single comment that was left on their Facebook fan page regarding this matter (but you can read most of them below). And they have also sparked a new debate on the fan page by stating that the photographer made them feel “intimidated and threatened” with his camera. Come join the debate.
The story on the Vermont shopping center banning a photographer from its premises has stirred a healthy debate on Photography is Not a Crime on whether or not a private venue has the right to ban somebody from its premises for the act of taking photos off their premises.
Many have taken the libertarian view that a private business has the right to ban whomever they want from their establishment as long as they are not basing their discrimination on race, religion, sex, national origin, age or disability, which is forbidden by federal law.
But this case is a little more complex than that because the Burlington Town Center is a public-private partnership which depends heavily on tax-money for improvements, including a $6 million grant from the U.S. Dept. of Transportation.
According to the FAQ section on the mall’s own website:
The Marketplace and downtown Burlington are the recipients of a $6,000,000 award from the US. Dept of Transportation under the SAFETEA LU program. These funds will be used to make improvements to a key alleyway that connects the Marketplace to a major parking garage, to upgrade the electrical infrastructure, improve crossings with the side streets to the Marketplace, increase connectivity to the waterfront, and to extend the concepts of pedestrian oriented design to the adjacent side streets.
A further breakdown on how federal and local taxes are used to improve infrastructure in the mall can be read in last December’s association meeting minutes.
Usually when people get banned from a commercial establishment, it is because they’ve created a disturbance inside the venue. But in this case, the photographer, Dan Scott, was taking pictures on public property outside the venue.
And that prompted a security guard to misinform him that he was not allowed to photograph the building, which lead to a police officer to demand his personal information, which lead to another police officer popping up at his place of employment a few days later where he grilled Scott for 45 minutes.
Isn’t it clear who is out of line here?
Meanwhile, Scott has been stating his case on Flickr, providing more details and photos of the events that led to his banning. The 32-year-old man who is married with children states that he is giving up photography because of the stigma that it has brought him.
This is how he explains the top photo:
I was using a telephoto lens that day to create a compressed perspective between foreground and background. Why? Because I thought it made for pretty pictures of the snow falling. I was far enough away from the store that I didn’t realize she was associated with it. She was outside smoking and, with the snow in the background, the scene looked timeless. So, I took the picture.
She became aware of me just after I took it. She yelled at me. Told me to stop taking her picture. She was very agitated. I simply said “ok” and then she insisted that I delete the one I had taken. I told her that I couldn’t do that. I then turned away and left. It was obvious she wasn’t interested in why I was taking pictures on the street.
Scott has been accused of being “creepy” because he photographs young woman, but a quick look through his Flickr stream shows that young woman are a small percentage of his subjects, which also include normal looking shots of his children.
This is how he explains his subjects:
The irony is that I seldom photograph young women. I’m more interested in the old and disabled. I did, however, take a photo of a fellow sitting in the window of the coffee house that has insisted on the ban. The manager saw me and came out and read me the riot act. I explained that I had done nothing wrong and tried to walk away but she followed me down the street a ways yelling at me. That was the first incident.
So it is clear that Uncommon Grounds believes it can prohibit people from photographing its employees and patrons even though they have absolutely no expectation of privacy.
They also have no problem of putting their own photos online as you can see in the photos below which had been posted on the Uncommon Grounds fan page. So it’s not like they are camera shy.
If you think they are out of line, let them know by commenting on their fan page as many of us have already done. I’ve included several screen shots below in case they start deleting the comments.
They’ve also acknowledge on their fan page that they are looking to change their name because of a trademark issue. A couple of people suggested new names, including “Commie Grounds” and “Unconstitutional Grounds.” If you have any further suggestions, post them below and I’ll be sure to forward them to the coffee shop in case they don’t stumble upon this post.