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The Photo Flap Moves to Rockville

The battle over the right to treat downtown Silver Spring as if it were a real downtown--that is, a public space where people have the right to express themselves as the Constitution guarantees--continues. In the latest chapter, the developer has announced--get this--a photo contest in which winners will get $100 in coupons for doing what the developer still insists it has a right to prohibit: Take photos in an open public space.

But now, the battleground shifts a few miles to the north, to downtown Rockville, where the new town center--also a private development spurred by considerable public investment--is also making noises about preventing citizens from taking photos in what appears to any reasonable person to be a public space.

Rockville mayoral candidate Drew Powell told the Montgomery Sentinel that a security guard stopped him from taking a picture of his son in front of the Rockville Library last week. Rockville officials say they consider their new town center a public space and have no desire to restrict photography or political or religious speech there. But an executive at Federal Realty, the developer of the Town Center, said that "there are some situations in which people taking pictures in Town Square might be asked to stop," for example, if someone sought to take photos for commercial use.

But Rockville city manager Scott Ullery, in an email obtained by the Post, said that when he contacted Federal Realty executives to check on their policy, he was told that there were no such restrictions on photography in the town center.

So far, so good. Stay tuned.

By Marc Fisher |  July 6, 2007; 7:42 AM ET
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

Could we give Keith Washington a camera and his gun and send him to some of these spots to battle it out with the developers and security guards?

I know, bad taste, and my apologies. But I couldn't resist.

Posted by: dirrtysw | July 6, 2007 9:03 AM

I'm thinking the MD AG needs to send an opinion letter to these private partners.

Posted by: Mark | July 6, 2007 9:09 AM

Maybe we can get that nutjob Pearson to try to take pictures somewhere there. He can ask for way more than $54M since there are more people in MD than in DeeCee.

Posted by: Stick | July 6, 2007 9:21 AM

The way that the Montgomery County government betrayed the public trust in these instances is shameful. Rest assured that this property giveaway will continue. I wonder how many political donations Federal Realty has spread around over the years. Care to look into that, Marc?

Posted by: Louis The Rogue | July 6, 2007 9:52 AM

As a photographer, I am glad we have apparently prevailed in downtown Silver Spring and fully expect us to prevail in Rockville as well.

I'm much more upset that the Park service makes wedding photographers purchase expensive permits in order to photograph brides at the Jefferson Memorial.

And it doesn't end there. I remember photographing the oconic lone pine at Big Sur, California, and learning that the tree had been copyrighted and that it was technically illegal to take photos of it.

And my students all have horror stories about being thwarted by security guards when taking photos on Capitol Hill. Sadly, the madness persists.

Posted by: Dr. F. | July 6, 2007 11:09 AM

Stick beat me to the recommendation: Have someone with a lot of time and a good lawyer refuse to obey the security guard. If that person gets arrested, sue the hell out of the REIT or management company. Perhaps my thought differs from stick in one respect: I recommend getting a good lawyer. Pants Pearson does not qualify.

Posted by: Mister Methane | July 6, 2007 11:27 AM

You can't copyright a tree. You may have been told that, but it's not true. To be copyrighted, something must be one of the types of things described in sec. 102 of the Copyright Act, a literary work, musical work, dramatic work, pantomime or choreographic work, pictorial, graphic or sculptural work, motion picture or other audiovisual work, sound recording or an architectural work. Not a tree.

Posted by: IP lawyer | July 6, 2007 11:31 AM

So, what we have here is an overzealous rent-a-cop enforcing rules (probably as he/she interprets them) and the site manager not being bright enough to say "whoa, do we have a problem here?". Add to that a "victim" who doesn't know their rights and doesn't simply invite the next step. I'm betting that, when the property's attorneys take a serious look at the possible consequences, both immediate (lawsuit) and long-term (soured relations with MoCo) they will quickly kill the policy.

As far as the Jefferson Memorial is concerned, that is not a natural attraction that only requires opening the gates. It is a man-made object that requires constant maintenance. If you, as a professional photographer, are going to make money off of that property, you should pay your fair share of the upkeep.

Posted by: Catcher50 | July 6, 2007 12:26 PM

But can you trademark a tree? I think that is what the poster meant.

Posted by: bkp | July 6, 2007 12:58 PM

Drew Powell? Of Neighbors for a Better Montgomery? Oh, he's just trying to make up an issue to help himself in the city election. Has any one asked Mr. Powell whether he registered a complaint with City Hall? Does he have the name of the security guard? I think not.

Posted by: Brian | July 6, 2007 1:00 PM

To Catcher50 - Uh, don't we all pay our share for the upkeep of the Jefferson Memorial (i.e. taxes)? We pay for our monuments and should be free to take pictures of them. (Except Marion Barry)

Posted by: Rosslyn | July 6, 2007 1:02 PM

"remember photographing the oconic lone pine at Big Sur, California, and learning that the tree had been copyrighted"

I think you mean the Lone Cypress tree in Monterey, CA? For a picture see:

Beautiful, hunh? That particular tree is the logo/symbol of the Pebble Beach Company. The tree itself is not copyrighted, but it's image is, meaning that you can't use any picture of in commercially. It's perfectly legal to take a picture of it and post it anywhere; you just can't sell the picture. As far as I know, they still allow people to take pictures. Similar to SS, you're on private land when you do (which I think is a key point legally). Pebble Beach is a corporation that owns the town and charges $9 per car to pass thru 17 mile drive to pass through PB and see the tree. It's free if you're on a bike though.

Catcher50 has a key point on the Jefferson Memorial wedding photographers. They are making money on on the picture, which is why they are charged for the priviledge. Thus, it SHOULD be perfectly fine to take wedding photos at the Jefferson Memorial w/o a license so long as the photographer is NOT PAID for it. It is no different than when I take a photo of some friends there.

Posted by: proxli | July 6, 2007 1:07 PM

If you think freedom to photo is the chief issue here, follow the money in any of these so-called Public-Private Partnership deals. Elected officials, too cowardly to make big-number capital investments, give away lots more in long-term tax revenue and zoning variances.

Posted by: Mike Licht | July 7, 2007 8:54 AM

Re Jefferson Memorial, etc.: Many professional photographers with portable floodlights, reflector stands and tripods once made these truly public spaces their personal wedding portrait studios. Permits and other limitations on these enterprises seem reasonable.

Posted by: Mike Licht | July 7, 2007 9:02 AM

>You can't copyright a tree<

But you can certainly PATENT it and any plant you want to claim you "created" -- there is going to be a big battle over this coming in our century.

Corporations staking claims on genes and seeds is not going to stand for long.

Posted by: Kathy | July 11, 2007 6:01 PM

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