Thursday, June 14, 2007

Cameras Off-Limits in Downtown Silver Spring?

It appears as if Downtown Silver Spring has become one of the increasing number of places in America where photography is banned. According to this photographer, The Peterson Companies, developer and manager of DTSS, has decided that taking photographs is a no-no.

This past Tuesday, having the day off of work, I went to downtown Silver Spring, had lunch and then took out my camera and, standing on Ellsworth Avenue I began taking shots of the buildings with the blue sky and clouds as a back drop. I was immediately approached by a security guard who told me that there was no picture taking allowed in Downtown Silver Spring.” What do you mean?” I said, “I am on a city street, in a public place, taking pictures is right that I have protected by the first amendment.” “You will need to go to the management office,” the guard said.

In the management office I met a woman who informed me that Downtown Silver Spring including Ellsworth Avenue is private property, not a public place, and subject to the rules of the Peterson Companies. They have a no photography policy to “Protect them from people who might want to use the photographs as part of a story in which they could write bad things about us.” And she told me that many of the chain stores in Downtown Silver Spring don’t what their “concepts” to be photographed for security reasons or that I could sell my photographs and that is not allowed. I told her that I was well aware of my rights to take pictures on public property, any pictures that I take I have a right to sell, and questioned how they could have a policy that limits our individual rights when Downtown Silver Spring was built with public money.
This is completely absurd. This is Silver Spring we're talking about, not Dick Cheney's hotel or anything. They promote all types of family events in DTSS, but I guess if you bring out your camera to take pictures of your kids, you risk getting hassled by The Man. I guess the New York Times violated the rules when they took a photo for their article about Silver Spring, but maybe it was overlooked because they didn't write "bad things" about it.


The photography ban only applies to mere mortals, as goddesses are permitted to snap away at will.

From the photographer's blog:
Today, we returned to downtown Silver Spring for lunch... She was also carrying around an enormous digital SLR camera, snapping pictures of her entourage when she wasn't posing for pictures with others.
More photos can be found here.


Ellsworth Drive isn't the only place where you can't take photos in Silver Spring. Another photographer was accosted by security after taking this photo in Metro Plaza.


Fox 5 ran a story on this today on the 5 o'clock news. It can be viewed here. I'm mildly disappointed they didn't interview a representative from Peterson to at least get their side of the story.


The Post has now picked up the story. Also, here's some discussion of the story in Marc Fisher's chat. It's also now made it on Boing Boing.


Thayer Avenue said...

I am totally testing this theory with an official photo shoot. Not only that, but I got an email from Stacy Horan, the Marketing Manager of Peterson Management, the other day. Did you? She was asking me to post some info about happenings down there. I ignored it assuming the interests were mostly commercial.

It is SO on. Can't wait to get accosted by a rent-a-cop.

Debbie Cook said...

So, I have to know!!! Did you get any shots before they stopped you? and can we see them? What were they going to do take your camera away!!! Sounds Unbelievable that they can do that, I want to test it out too!

Anonymous said...

This is absurd, bad for business, illegal, etc. The Post should write it up, and the County Council should be made aware of it.

Anonymous said...

A very unknown Silver Spring secret: the Secret Service have an office on Ellsworth. It's hidden, but it's there. There is also an intelligence agency that has an operations center in Silver Spring, not too far from Ellsworth.

Anonymous said...

I think we should organize a mass photo shoot! Wouldn't it be spectacular to have 100 people just innocently standing around and then all of a sudden whip out cameras and start shooting every inch of the place?

Sligo said...

They might call out the riot squad, then.

Thayer Avenue said...

I went to the concert and movie last night, and there were LOADS of people with cameras taking pictures (including me, of course). I even stood right by a security guard upstairs while snapping away. I guess with that many people at an even like that, there's not much they can do.

And 'anonymous' is freaking me out with the Secret Squirrel intel. Are you for real or are you just trying to make me paranoid? Where? Can we get confirmation?

rtsind said...

I recall many years ago, a Silver Spring residents was kidnapped by a UFO- I do not recall her name but it was a female .

There is also a rumor that there are tunnels under Home Depot(Aspen Hill), formerly the headquarters of Vitro- which was involved in militart matters.

So maybe there is a Secret Service office and maybe the CIA and maybe men in Black.

I have a couple of neighbors who claim that strange men are trying to kidnap their dogs, and that the walls in their homes speak to them-- nothing surprises me in Silver Spring.

squirrelist said...

In searching for what is legally acceptable, I came across this book:

This link has a summary:

Also, I found a great article from USA Today. However, the author's definition of public space seems to run contrary to what I've read elsewhere. Some places define public space as "owned by the public", but the author of the USA Today article defines public space as "open to the public". He gives anecdotal evidence, but I would really like to see court precedence.

I found this interesting article on the definition of public space:

And last, I came across this interesting blog on photographer rights:

All in all, it looks like they have the right to ban photography on (not of) their property (do they in fact own Ellsworth?). However, I strongly believe that as our "public spaces" are disappearing and becoming "privately owned public spaces", we need to challenge this.

In my opinion, the only valid argument they have for banning photography is "because the owners don't want it". Security, trade secrets, the fear that it will be used for commercial purposes, it's all baldercrap.

Yes, let's organize a group photo tour. After that, let's do a mass sketching and painting of downtown Silver Spring.

SSDP said...

According to the Silver Spring Regional Services Center Ellsworth Dr is private property. I spoke to the Montgomery Cty Transport Dept who seemed to think that they maintain it but the lady wasn't positive.

Sligo said...

I know that DTSS can close off the street at will, which they do every weekend.

chippy said...

I am the photographer that this happened to. And I think this leads to very serious questions about individual rights in a public/private area.
This is the entire letter about what happened Tuesday. It has been sent to the County Council and Senator Raskins office. As well as the Gazette,Washington Post and Voice Newspaers.

I am excited that the folks here see the need to discuss such an issue.

To Whom It May Concern:

I am a longtime resident of Silver Spring. Back in the mid nineties through
my involvement with the Greater Silver Spring Chamber of Commerce and what
was then called the Silver Spring Urban District, I participated in many of
the activities leading up to the development of the new Downtown Silver

I have many hobbies and one of them is Photography. One could describe the
kind of pictures that I take as ³Urban Landscape². Through the popular
photography website Flickr, I participate in a photography group known as
³DC Neighborhoods² where we pick a neighborhood, photograph its character
and ambiance, and then post it to this site to share with the group and

This past Tuesday, I went to downtown Silver Spring, had lunch, and then
took out my camera and standing on Ellsworth Avenue, I began taking shots of
the buildings with the blue sky and clouds as a backdrop. Almost
immediately, a security guard approached and told me ³there was no picture
taking allowed in Downtown Silver Spring.² What do you mean² I said, ³I am
on a city street, in a public place, taking pictures is a right that I have
protected by the first amendment.² The guard told me to report to the
management office.

There, Stacy Horan informed me that Downtown Silver Spring including
Ellsworth Avenue is private property, not a public place, and subject to the
rules of the Peterson Companies. They have a no photography policy to
³Protect them from people who might want to use the photographs as part of a
story in which they could write bad things about us.² And she told me that
many of the chain stores in Downtown Silver Spring don¹t what their
³concepts² to be photographed for security reasons. There was also a concern
that I might sell my photographs and that is not allowed. I told her that I
was well aware of my rights to take pictures on public property, any
pictures that I take I have a right to sell, and questioned how they could
have a policy that limits our individual rights when Downtown Silver Spring
was built with public money.

I found out later that it is true Ellsworth Avenue was turned over to
Peterson Companies through the process of condemnation.

So now I¹m wondering: If this is a $1.2 billion public/private investment as
stated in Tuesday¹s New York Times article about the downtown renaissance,
where do the public¹s rights end and the private corporations policies
takeover?? In discussing this with fellow Silver Spring residents I have
been told that we are not allowed to campaign, petition or protest in
Downtown Silver Spring. These are basic American values, true to our
beliefs, and in the Downtown Silver Spring they are banned?? In this age of
eroding individual rights should the people of Silver Spring accept this??

It is my understanding that the county continues to spend public funds
promoting Downtown Silver Spring and I wouldn¹t discourage this, but I think
that the county should have a conversation with the Peterson Companies about
their policies in regards to these basic American values and freedoms.

I don¹t think that the people of this county are willing to trade their
rights of free speech or the right to petition assemble and protest in their
own downtown for a Starbucks or a Potbelly¹s.

Anonymous said...

Redevelopment has a price. That price is the forfeiture of public space to a private development company.

Before we get our panties in a knot...I have always viewed Ellsworth Street as a shopping Mall with restaurants and stores. OK. When you visit Wheaton Mall, do you have the freedom to take photographs there? I don't know because Wheaton Mall is PRIVATE property owned by Westfield. The representatives from Westfield decide the rules.

Same situation here. Peterson Properties has the right to establish and enforce rules on the pubilc on their property. The road and sidewalks belong to Peterson...not the public.'s just one block of space. If Peterson had reign over many square blocks of DTSS, then I think we could make some serious grassroots challenges on constitutional and legal grounds. But it's just one block of commercial space.

In the end, I hope the County doesn't make these kind of deals a habit with Peterson Foulger or other developers. Surrendering public property for commercial revitalization should be the last option on the table.


chippy said...

I wouldnt have a problem with this if this development had been built with private money.Westfiled purchased what was Wheaton Plaza from the Guidolsky family with their own money. Downtown Silver Spring was finanaced with public money. It is still promoted with public money. The Petersons should be forced to at least allow the people who financed their mall to exercise their rights as citizens.

Our panties should be in a knot.

JDH said...

Hmmm . . . .

This is an interesting discussion. One one hand, if the property is truly privately owned, then you generally have to abide by the owner's rule.

In Pittsburgh, the guards at the PPG complex are notorious for clamping down on photography on their property. At the corners, there are little plates embedded into the sidewalk that note you are on private property.

However, several of the posters have a good point about the development being funded with public money. This is a question for the lawyers. And I am surprised that Ellsworth is privately owned. If my tax money went to help fund the development or is going to maintain Ellsworth, then I would think that should be considered public property.

Anonymous said...

You people have way too much time on your hands to be thinking about all the things you can protest about. How about taking a deep breath get all the venom out of your system and do something good with your day.

silver spring penguin said...

Just wanted to throw my two cents in ...

Courts don't often look at whether photos were taken on public or private property.

What they do look at is whether there was a reasonable expectation of privacy.

For example, a very public yet privately owned building -- a mall or a stadium -- is usually fair game for photographers. People don't expect privacy in such a public place. Of course, the building's owners could ask you to leave, but that happens so rarely.

In the case of DTSS, I would argue that there is ZERO expectation of privacy.

Also, parts of the sidewalk on the shopping area's periphery, as well as the metered parking lot on Colesville Road, are probably county (read: public) property. As long as you remain on public property, you can photograph a privately owned building all day long.

At any rate, your photos, and the memory card on which they're stored, belong to you. Sell them, post them on the internet, wallpaper your bathroom. No guard or police officer can confiscate them from you (not without a warrant).

My brain is too fried right now to quote case law, but just holler if you're interested.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous @ 3:22:

Milt, is that you? Are people going to banned from taking photos at the Waterfront, too?

Anonymous said...

So did they let you continue to photograph after you went to the management office?

chippy said...

This just in

Fox 5 News heard of this and hit the tax office today and found that Montgomery County still owns the street.

Here is the response from Gary Stith in regards to the ownership of the street.
"It is owned by Montgomery County but PFA (the developer) has a long
term lease on this area. They are responsible for maintaining the area,
providing security and managing the area. There is a public use easement
on the area that ensures public access."

Key words there "ensures public access". Which means that people have the same right on Ellsworth as they do on anyother street. So the Peterson Companies have over stepped their bounds by stopping me from taking pictures on Ellsworth and in claiming that they own the street.

Sligo said...

Interesting. Is this going to be on the news tonight?

chippy said...

Perhaps tommorow at 5:00

silver spring penguin said...

Good work, Chip!!!

chippy said...

Channel Five News interviewed myself and Kate Mearand, a Flickr Photo Rights Advocate from a city street in front of Downtown Silver Spring (Im told the Peterson holds copyright to that name) this morning. This will be aired tonght on their five o'clock news broadcast.
Chip Py

squirrelist said...

Set my DVR last night.

Sligo said...

Heh, me too. If someone can convert it and put it on YouTube, that would be great.

chippy said...

I understand it will be on the Myfoxdc site too.

Anonymous said...

You guys need to get a life. Have you always felt that rules and laws are meant to be broken? Can I take photos of you and families then place them all over the internet? I know that I don't want you taking photos of my children. I’m sure the security guards and property owners made the rules for a reason.

Kate said...

Channel 5 covered it today. You can see the clip at

And watch for it in the Post tomorrow. I think Marc Fisher is picking it up.

For more udpates, go to the Flickr page for this

squirrelist said...

Anonymous said: "Can I take photos of you and families then place them all over the internet?"

Absolutely! If my family and I are in a public space with no reasonable expectation of privacy, waivers or permission are not required. Taking a photo of us through a window with a zoom or posting personal information such as names, addresses, school schedules however, is definitely not permitted as it invades privacy. Photography of anything in public space is well established fair game with court precedence.

This discussion is about private property owners bending the rules or flat out lying, as well as reinterpreting the law to match the original intention of the law.

Anonymous said...

Andrea- not anon

To the anon who questions whether we are looking for rules to be broken- my question to you is how many things have to be taken away from you before you would complain? Protecting our rights is not venomous- it is our duty as American citizens.
I can't imagine that DSW or Potbelly are worried about people snapping photos in front of their stores. IF someone wants to do a hatchet job on a company, they don't need to take a photo of their store in Silver Spring. Just some bogus low level manager trying to create some power trip.

Sligo said...

If you support photography in Downtown Silver Spring you are giving aid and comfort to the terrorists.

wayan said...

Metroblogging DC is taking this to the next level. We're gonna celebrate the freedom to photograph in a Silver Spring Photo Outing on the best day possible: July 4th!

Come join us, and bring your big lenses to make the point.

chippy said...

Good morning.
Thank you for all of your support for this.

We have had excellant support from the Flickr community, Bloggers, The Post and TV. Metro Bloggers are planning something along the lines of "throwing some tea overboard". Last night at a planning board meeing a citizen asked the planning board if photography would be allowed at the privately run skating rink they will build in Silver Spring on the public land now covered by a tarp.Noone answered. I am very excited about all of this. But we need to take things to another step.

The Peterson Group has yet to respond to any of this. They only issued a statement sticking to the company line about protecting themselves from those who paid for their shopping mall.Gary Stith,the counties main man in Silver Spring talks about this like he works for Peterson and not the people of Silver Spring and Montgomery County. He spoke only about the corporations rights. Im certain they are waiting for all this to blow over.

If you are from Montgomery County please take a few mintues to contact your elected representatives. Let them know you feel strongly about this. They are the ones who can force Peterson to the table and remind Mr Stith who he works for.

Here is the councils contact info.

See you anywhere but Downtown Silver Spring
Chip Py

Sligo said...

I would reasonably expect that photography would be allowed at the ice rink and civic center. Then again, I would have assumed the same thing about DTSS prior to last week.

squirrelist said...

Boing Boing has picked this up.


Sligo said...

I saw that - they called it "Silver Springs", though.