You Can Shoot In Chicago

A post on the Chicagoist describes the trouble the author ran into when taking pictures on the Chicago Transit Authority. After shooting a few quick snapshots, she was approached by a CTA employee who ordered her to put her camera down. The photographer agreed but pointed out that the Authority allows photography on its premises, to which the employee responded by threatening her with imprisonment. “I could send you to jail for taking these pictures, so stop arguing with me!” he said.chtrain.jpg

As the author of the article notes, she isn’t the only one to have run into trouble while taking pictures of Chicago’s trains. There’s a whole discussion on Flickr devoted to the subject.

So she wrote to the CTA’s Vice President of Marketing and Communications, Noelle Gaffney, to find out what exactly the policy was. The answer was polite, long and a little opaque. Mostly it stated that photography is restricted to public areas, should be done without large equipment and shouldn’t be obstructive. But it also included this:

“Instructions given to our personnel make it very clear that they must do their best to distinguish between tourists and people just taking a couple of snapshots compared to professional photographers, production companies or someone who is taking an extended period of time or showing an unusual interest in areas of the station or equipment that would not be of interest to an average customer.”

The problem that struck us was that these days there isn’t a huge difference between people taking snapshots and professional photographers. After all, if those “snapshots” turn out to be good enough, they could be sold as microstock and generate hundreds of dollars.

So we wrote to Bert Krages, author of The Legal Handbook For Photographers, to get his take on the CTA’s photography policy. This was his response:

As best I can tell, the CTA policy is dealing with the issue of passenger obstruction and is not concerned about how the photographs are used. There is no formal legal distinction between commercial and noncommercial photography, instead CTA is relying on its right as a property owner to set conditions on entry into its facilities.

Prohibiting people from setting up equipment such as tripods and lighting is within the CTA’s right in much the same way they could reasonably prohibit non-photographers from placing other obstructions in the public areas.

I don’t see how the CTA policy could be interpreted as entitling CTA to the recover against a photographer that sells an image taken on CTA property. However, it could be used to order a photographer to leave a platform if that photographer had no permission to set up a 120-person nude shoot featuring an inflatable elephant against a 20 x 30 foot backdrop and lit by dozens of soft boxes. In other words, this aspect of the policy appears to be a reasoned measure to ensure that the general public is not obstructed when traveling on the CTA system.

That all sounds fair enough. You can shoot in public areas of the Chicago Transit Authority and sell the images, whether or not that was your intention when bringing out your camera. (Although presumably, the CTA’s logo itself is copyrighted, which could give you other problems.) You just have to do it without a tripod and without getting in anyone’s way.

Photo of the red line express train by Chris&AmyCate.

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