Recently during a performance at a theater (in the US) I took a photo of the stage during intermission and was warned not to do so by a member of the staff because of "copyright issues". I apologized and began to put my phone away but was then asked by the staff member to demonstrate to them that I had deleted all photos of the stage from my phone.

Can I be required to delete photos that I have already taken from my phone? Can I ever be required to show another person what photos are on my phone?

  • 2
    This is a legal question, not a question about how to take a picture.
    – Michael C
    Dec 22 '13 at 3:28
  • 3
    @MichaelClark: Indeed.
    – orome
    Dec 22 '13 at 3:37
  • Note: Note that the standing of the venue's policy against photography is not in question here, nor (for the purposes of argument) is whether I was sufficiently informed of that policy. The question here is whether, in a case where the venue believes such a policy has been violated, it can demand to see what's on my phone and that I perform specific actions with its content.
    – orome
    Dec 24 '13 at 13:41
  • @MichaelClark Right to detain would significantly vary by jurisdiction, but in general is very limited.
    – mattdm
    Dec 24 '13 at 20:17
  • 1
    @MichaelClark US law does not describe copyright violation as "theft". But even in cases where physical theft is suspected, the right to detain is very limited. Research it for your state — you may be very surprised.
    – mattdm
    Dec 24 '13 at 21:25

it's a grey area but (based on experience in UK) the theatre is private property so you will need permission to photograph there.

Are you legally required to delete the photos you have taken:

Yes and No, technically you have already broken one law but by deleting the photos you are essentially agreeing that if you delete the evidence then no further action will be taken

Do you have to prove to the person that these photos have been deleted:

No, but it relates to the 'agreement above'. If you don't the staff member/manager could eject you from their property, contact the police, have you equipment seized and held in evidence.

It's unlikely to come to that but would you want to take the risk?

  • What law do you think was broken?
    – mattdm
    Dec 24 '13 at 15:18
  • 2
    An entire answer and conversation has been deleted. In the course of that conversation the OP admitted a "photography prohibited" clause was printed on the ticket. Taking a picture of intellectual property such as a work of art (including a stage design) can be considered violation of intellectual property laws and prosecuted as theft. How successful such a prosecution under criminal law would be is questionable, but intellectual property laws in the U.S. give tremendous rights and remedies to intellectual property holders under civil law and the holder would likely prevail.
    – Michael C
    Dec 24 '13 at 18:39

First, and foremost, this is a forum for photographers, not lawyers. Also, IANAL.

According to nphotomag you can be forced to leave, but not forced to delete your photos. However, there is usually a lot of legalese in fine print attached to your ticket which you may be held to. It's also worth noting that unless you sign your rights away (which may be the case in the fine print of the ticket) copyright is not the applicable concern, but private property and policy is.

On another note: your camera phone probably sucks at concert shots and you'll enjoy the event and remember it better if you don't take photos.


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