What Is The Etiquette of Beer Blog Photography?

Ron has explained that he has had a run in with this man above due to the use of a camera. In his post from last Sunday, he describes the salient facts:

…the boss came and told me I had to show him all the photos I’d taken and erase them, even the ones that were just of my beer. He threatened to call the police if I didn’t. Even the one of the entrance, taken from the street. He claimed that it was all private property and I couldn’t take any photos. He followed me out onto the street shouting insults at me…

I am not naming names but you can look it up. As he was clearly dealing a person of little common sense beyond the confines of his own mind, I am completely on side with Ron… except for the nagging question of a potential principle. See, I was named and even had my photo published in a paper recently in the course of my work and found the experience odd. You can look up that, too, but because I am fat I really hate photos of myself and, even at that, I was a little shocked with the realization that me being seen in any context was news. But Mr. Teutonic Tizzy Fit 2011, Ron’s new friend, wasn’t about that. He was just a pompous boor, pretending he had a right to the sight of his bar.

Ron reminded me of two other incidents as a beer blogger that have shaped my thoughts. Back in 2004, I went into a beer shop in Pennsylvania and was told, no, I could not take photos, that it was against the law. I thought that was a lie, that I was getting jerked around and, as you can see, I snuck a few interior shots out back. Sirens did not wail. In the other case, in the spring of 2005, after hitting the Blue Tusk and Clarks, I found myself late at night on a great crawl in Awful Al’s Whiskey and Cigar Bar where I was soon told to stop taking pictures and even to show I had deleted a couple in particular. The request was made by a bouncer backed waitress and, even at that particular moment, I saw the ethical point. While I love all three sets of photos from that great night out, to the waitress I was Mr. Creepy Digital Cameraman 2005. No issue at all as far as I am concerned.

Is there a thread of an ethical principle to be drawn through these examples? For me, I have every sympathy for wait staff. I’ve done it and, like laying sod for a living, stopped. That waitress, I realized immediately, had every right to feel I was out of line. I even have some sympathy for the guys in PA whose shop I may have illegally photographed – given the whacked laws down there and how it might just be true. But even if German law gives Ron’s pal the right to control the dissemination of images, I don’t care. He’s a bully.

But is that good enough? Those are my conclusions based on the moment. Is there a better way to determine whether it is right to take a photo for your beer blog?

One thought on “What Is The Etiquette of Beer Blog Photography?”

  1. [Original comments…]

    Craig – June 8, 2011 10:22 PM
    First off, The Tusk is an amazing place, but I always thought Clarks smelled too strongly of bleach. Secondly, I’m amazed at the threat of legal action, both in Pennsylvania and Germany. Just because a person doesn’t want or like their photo, or even a photo of their property taken, doesn’t make it illegal. Sure, they can ask you to leave, but implying that your actions are somehow breaking a law, seems like they’re talking out of their derriere. Plus, there weren’t any signs posted.

    Working in advertising, the only time that I’ve ever come up against a “model release” issue is 1) if you are using a person’s image to advertise a product or 2) the photo subject is a child. Think of it this way, you’re standing in your yard and a parade goes by, as it passes a newspaper photojournalist takes your picture with the parade in the background. That PJ may ask your name, for the photo caption, but they’re not asking for permission to print the photo in the newspaper. Essentially the PJ owns that photo (technically the paper does, but who’s splitting hairs) and the of the of taking the photo was to document an event. How is that any different than what Ron did?

    Mike – June 9, 2011 7:06 AM
    I was there with Ron when this incident occurred and there are a couple of points that need to be cleared up. First of all, this is a biergarten with no walls and no doors. If you search for Hirschgarten, Munich in Google maps and look in satellite view, you will see the biergarten in the upper left of the park (the photo was obviously taken when the trees were almost bare). The biergarten sits in the park with no barriers or borders where one begins or the other ends.

    So, how could someone claim a right to privacy for a property he does not own and that is public? Secondly, when I told him we were tourists taking pictures for ourselves, he claimed we could be “spys.” For what or whom, he didn’t say.

    He was correct that we probably know less than he about German laws, but threatening several times to call the police (I’m kind of sorry we didn’t encourage him to) still seems to me way over the top. As Ron posted, we were not the only customers treated as criminals by this lunatic.

    Knut Albert – June 9, 2011 8:05 AM
    The only place I have had a problem was in the London branch of Whole Foods. I was told very clearly that photographs were prohibited. Company policy.
    I don’t really get the point, with modern cameras, any competitor wanting to steal ideas about how to arrange the cucumbers will be able to do so.

    Alan – June 9, 2011 9:04 AM
    Via Twitter, I learned about Panoramafreiheit.

    Velky Al – June 9, 2011 9:24 AM
    On the very few occasions when someone has threatened to call police for my taking photos, I usually just reply with something along the lines of “well, go on then”. Usually they then decide that they are doing you a favour by asking you to vacate the premises rather than bring in the Old Bill, the possibility of them wasting police time seems not to crossed their minds.

    However, I have made it a point to make sure it is ok to take pictures as a courtesy. Though I do think it would be useful of pubs and the like to have clearly displayed signs requesting visitors to refrain from taking pictures, should they so feel the need. If there is no sign, and having asked a waiter if it would be ok I will then snap away to my heart’s content.

    Craig – June 9, 2011 10:14 AM
    Alan, the irony of your Panoramafreiheit post is palpable.

    Greg – June 9, 2011 11:57 AM
    Just for the record, Pennsylvania has the worst beer and liquor laws this side of Syria, so it’s quite possible the shop owner was legitimately concerned that if the Liquor Control Board saw shots on the Internet of his store, he’d be subject to fines and nastiness. This would not be at all out of keeping with the PLCB’s habit of cracking down on good people for unbelievably small and petty things. There is a glimmer of hope that the PLCB will be abolished this year or next. I will believe it when I see it.

    It’s one thing when a jerk in a biergarten behaves like a fool, but to your larger point: As bloggers I think we should try to respect proprietors’ wishes. If the people are polite and ask us not to take pictures, I think we have to respect that, because there may be a very good reason. I’d never want to place a beer store owner in professional jeopardy so I could have a picture I liked on a site. Unless s/he was a total jerk, of course.

    Joe Stange – June 9, 2011 12:36 PM
    I don’t know about Germany, but Belgium has tougher laws on public photos than the U.S. and, I presume, Canada. Even when taken in a public street it can be illegal to post or publish photos of other people without written permission, whereas in the U.S. it would be protected speech.

    I’m going to defend that madman, who is obviously a terrible ambassador for one of the most touristed spots in one of the most touristed cities in Germany. Just trying to explain why he might think he has a legal leg to stand on.

    Joe Stange – June 9, 2011 12:37 PM
    Sorry, meant to say “NOT going to defend that madman.”

    Craig – June 9, 2011 1:10 PM
    But the gentleman in question isn’t culpable for Ron’s actions, nor are the PA beer store owners for Alan’s actions. In countires without freedon of panorama, the Biergarten guy and the store owners would technically be the victims, not the perpetrators, so the law would defend them. Besides, the act of taking the photograph is not what comes into question during panorama freedom issues, it’s the publication of those images. Italy has very stringent laws on publishing photographically reproduced images of public places, that doesn’t mean it’s illegal to take a picture of the Coliseum. Nonetheless, all of that is moot. Both Germany and the US have no laws against panorama, in fact Germany has a law explicitly permitting the photography of public places.

    Tiffany – June 9, 2011 1:33 PM
    It seems not a week goes by when someone is whipping out a camera at our bottle shop. While there’s no law against taking photos, I always appreciate someone asking prior to walking around and taking photos of the beer. Why? We have experienced price & selection shopping from grocery beer/wine managers. It’s bad enough that I see them jotting notes in-store, and we certainly don’t allow them to take photos. But most are out-of-towners sending photos into the clouds to friends back home, posing at the cooler wall or with their counterside beer haul.

    But I’m also guilty of whipping out my phone camera and snapping photos in beery places, without asking permission. I don’t ask permission in chain groceries, at beer festivals, at breweries. As for at our store, I generally ask or say, “Hey, can I take a photo of you and put it on our facebook page?” To-date, one person has requested “no photos, please” — and I can respect that.

    Russ – June 9, 2011 1:49 PM
    Keeping in mind that what you CAN do is distinct from what you SHOULD do, I think the etiquette is pretty simple: pictures of public things are fair game, but you should ask permission when photographing people. In the U.S., there’s generally no expectation of privacy in public, so I don’t see the need to ask for permission to take a picture of an establishment open to the public, though I think it’s common courtesy to ask before taking a picture of a person.

    If for some reason, an owner objects to pictures of their establishment (and they may have a valid reason), I would generally respect that, but I would also expect them to be respectful in their objection. Ultimately, isn’t etiquette about respect? I’d like to think that in 99% of situations could be resolved by simply discussing the issue like adults. And that’s where our German friend in question failed the test.

    Jeff Alworth – June 9, 2011 2:05 PM
    I almost did a post when I read Ron’s account, too. My mind was boggled by the same quote you excerpted.

    You frame this as a matter of ethics and on that score, it’s clear: ethical. Putting on my “the Ethicist” hat (since Randy abandoned it), I would point to intention. Blogger goes to a place, likes it, wants to blog about it and share it with his readers. That’s a good thing! Even in the event that the blogger wants to show a picture of a rat exiting the kitchen, it’s certainly ethical to post such an image. Readers have a right to know what they’re getting into, and a photo of a rat would be an accurate representation. It’s a public space, and no trade secrets can be gleaned from a photo.

    As Russ notes, you want to be careful about capturing people in a photo, but this is a slightly different matter. Your ethical obligation in avoiding other diners is to those diners, not an unhinged owner.

    Greg – June 9, 2011 2:41 PM
    I think it’s just important to remember that there is a difference between a public place and a private business, and, while some places may blur that line (like a public biergarten), generally the difference is pretty clear, and it’s important. We may think we’re helping a store owner and free publicity is a good thing, but if the owner simply wants to control his or her Internet presence, or if a state’s antiquated laws make online pictures of their store an illegal advertisement (and Craig, that absolutely could be the case, regardless of absurdity level) and subject them to exposure, then I think we should respect their desires not to photograph the interior.

    Craig – June 9, 2011 4:17 PM
    As far as ethics go, Ron and Alan did take the high road (well, two-thirds of the time—sorry Alan!) Both were asked to stop taking photos and they did. Both were asked to delete photos and they did. Ron was then kicked out and insulted. Who’s being ethical and who is not?

    Jeff Alworth – June 9, 2011 6:10 PM
    Greg, you’ve offered a legal rationale–which is a different matter. (And one I think is philosophically suspect; laws aren’t, by their very existence, good things. Still, that’s a matter for a different post.) But it seems uncomplicated as a matter of ethics.

    Paul Arthur – June 9, 2011 6:15 PM
    As a very broad baseline for what’s legal in the US: if you are on public property, you can take photos of whatever you like, including private property; if you are on private property and the property owner tells you to either stop taking photographs or leave, you are obligated to respect that request. Private parties never have a right to demand that you erase photos or hand over your film. People can be photographed unless they are someplace where they have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

    Publication is another matter, but for blogs photos are being used in an editorial rather than commercial manner so model and property releases aren’t generally necessary (though they never hurt).

    Etiquette goes beyond legal requirements into a fuzzier area. A restaurateur has no legal basis to prevent you photographing their restaurant from a public area or using photos you took inside before you were asked to leave, but it’s still polite to respect their wishes. Conversely, it’s polite for them to allow reasonable photography without throwing me out, and any review would certainly reflect my opinion of their attitude.

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