Downtown LA: Not Camera-Friendly

Photo by Bryan Villarin

Downtown LA continues to be a difficult place to take photos. We postedon Travis Puderbaugh’s experience at Grand and 3rd a few months back, and now comes this from photographer Bryan Villarin.

Last Thursday Bryan was taking photos of the TCW Tower on 8th and Figueroa when he was stopped by security. Security radioed in for bigger security, and the head guy came out to say Bryan had to stop because the building was “proprietary and is prohibited from being photographed.” I’m still puzzling over that usage of proprietary and I don’t think it really applies to buildings, but anyway, Bryan writes this on his blog:

I mentioned Google Maps and he said that it wasn’t as detailed because it’s a bird’s eye view. (Apparently, he hasn’t heard of Street View. I could see it from the street perfectly — without even being there!)

Bryan left willingly without further incident, but it does make one wonder what’s the big deal.

And, according to, the TCW Tower won the Los Angeles Tall Building Structural Award for  Outstanding Design in 1990. Isn’t it a shame that an award-winning piece of architecture isn’t allowed to be photographed?

11 Responses to “Downtown LA: Not Camera-Friendly”

  1. 1 Angelo July 29, 2008 at 4:53 am

    Hi Shawn:

    Thanks for keeping up the good fight!

    In this article as with others I’m always troubled with comments such as:

    “Bryan left willingly without further incident, but it does make one wonder what’s the big deal.”


    “Isn’t it a shame that an award-winning piece of architecture isn’t allowed to be photographed?”

    As for the first; the big deal is those moronic security guards were left to assume they were right and won the argument. While I’m not an advocate for confrontation I’m also not one to let stuff like this go unchallenged.

    As for the latter; there is no such standing that says that piece of architecture isn’t allowed to be photographed but for the idiotic comments and policies of an uneducated building management and security team.

    I think the NPRD group should rally at the base of that building, cameras blazing and give that crack security team a collective heart attack. =)

  2. 2 Bryan Villarin July 29, 2008 at 7:20 am


    Sorry man, I mentioned in my post that I really had to leave anyway.

    I’ll be dedicating time to challenge this further soon enough. Seriously. I’m pretty sure Shawn and others will help. Seeing that you’re in LA, too, I hope I see you soon, yeah? 🙂

  3. 3 Joel Lawson July 29, 2008 at 12:56 pm

    The right to photograph a building visible from public space is specifically protected in US copyright law. That’s right: written US law specifically knocks down these absurd claims we hear sometimes from security guards, shop owners, and others that their building cannot be photographed:

    “The copyright in an architectural work that has been constructed does not include the right to prevent the making, distributing, or public display of pictures, paintings, photographs, or other pictorial representations of the work, if the building in which the work is embodied is located in or ordinarily visible from a public place.” [17 U.S.C. 120 (a)]

  4. 4 Wandering Waterman August 1, 2008 at 4:59 pm

    Joel Lawson is correct, though here’s the hook. “the right to photograph a building visible from PUBLIC space…” This is where building owners get us. Their property lines run all the way up to the street, and include the sidewalks, so they’re within their rights to prohibit photographers from taking photos on their property. You wouldn’t want someone coming onto your lawn and taking photos of your house, would you? That’s trespassing. Now, the way around this is to take the photo while standing on PUBLIC property i.e. the street, then they can’t say a thing and you’re well within your rights. They can call the police, but since the building is visible from public space, then they can’t do anything about it.
    You can quote:

    Rock & Roll Hall of Fame & Museum v. Gentile Prods., 134 F.3d 749 (6th Cir. Ohio 1998)

    Have fun, and remember your rights!

  5. 5 babydiscarted August 1, 2008 at 8:20 pm

    Yes, we know full well about the rights of photographers to take photos from public streets! That’s what this blog & group are dedicated to … it was a touch of sarcasm that apparently didn’t come through. Thanks for your comments.

  6. 6 Wandering Waterman August 2, 2008 at 12:22 am

    Sorry if I stepped on some toes, wasn’t intended, was trying to be helpful, since I used to be a photographer and had to deal with that sort of harassment constantly. I figured since Lawson had cited a ruling I would simply fill it out , just so that readers might know their full rights. My apologies babydiscarted…

  7. 7 babydiscarted August 2, 2008 at 7:45 am

    No problem, no toes stepped on – just thought maybe should explain since it seemed like I was clueless or something when I was trying to be sarcastic! Any additional info on rights and rulings is always helpful, and it’s good to get the word out.

  8. 8 Angelo August 16, 2008 at 12:01 am

    small nit WW

    Property lines do not extend to include the entirety of sidewalks. Sidewalks, from the curb to a private property line, are public space. In fact that is exactly why you very often see brass plates embedded in the sidewalk to demarcate the boundaries of a leasehold.

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