“No photos please, this is a press conference”

Occasionally, I witness an event so disturbing I have to post it on this blog immediately. Here is just such an event:

I was on my way home from work when I noticed a press conference outside the office (covering the Tokyo police force’s anti-drunk driving campaign with guest star Aya Ueto) . “Stop drunk driving once and for all!” read the signs. When I happened by, some boys in what appeared to be boy scout uniforms were speechifying about how they pledged to campaign against this serious public concern. Directly in front of the stage stood a tightly squeezed group of TV cameras and photographers.

So far so good until I noticed a security guard holding another sign: “No photography from cameras or mobile phones. We will remove anyone taking pictures.” No sooner did I appreciate the irony of ordering no photography at a press conference than an onlooker in a suit reached for his camera, only to be immediately approached by another man. The other man reached out and physically covered the lens of the camera with his hand. He was polite but firm: “No photos please.” I looked on in disgust and headed home soon after.

What a sad display. Here was a government-sponsored press conference and the public was not permitted to record the festivities, lest it cost a TV station some viewers or Dentsu (I am assuming) a bit of marketing power. In the US the police would have a prior restraint lawsuit on their hands. But even without making a free speech argument, it is simply pathetic to suppress citizen camerawork in favor of a media cartel.

11 thoughts on ““No photos please, this is a press conference””

  1. Live shows, exhibition, shops (and I’m not even talking about google streetview), what’s with the camera paranoia in Japan?

    Why is photography seen as such an unacceptable loss of control?

  2. True I hadn’t really thought of that specifically, partly because I missed the Ueto Aya portion of the event (and I am kicking myself for not leaving work 20 minutes earlier!). I wonder why they continued to ban photography even after she left the stage… Do fluffy characters and boy scouts have agencies enforcing their rights for them too? It could be that “no photos” is a default rule for these types of events, or that it would be too conspicuous to only ban photos during Ueto’s stage time. Besides, 100 onlookers taking cell phone pictures does not make for an attractive image.

    But it makes sense that the image rights motivation is probably behind this ugliness. It is still oppressive and wrong. How could they demand that and get away with it? And at any rate, what does Aya Ueto have to do with drunk driving? Is this part of some court-mandated community service?

    Dentsu and the other ad agencies offer package promotional deals that deliver all aspects of a campaign, from the talent to the character design to the press conference planning to ensuring proper media placement. I am sure that Dentsu insisted that a star like Ueto would be the icing on the cake of their press conference, as dubious as it may sound (inserting attractive models into PR campaigns, no matter how unrelated, seems to be the ad companies’ answer to everything).

    If the Tokyo police had actually used the money wisely instead of blowing it on a costly press conference there would have been no need for this ghastly no photos rule (if in fact Aya Ueto’s presence was the sole cause of it). The fact that some ad agency was successful in convincing the police to pay them for this press conference AND dictating draconian rules for the spectators doesn’t reflect well on the police force’s budgeting practices, and it is a disturbing reminder of the power of the PR machine in this country.

  3. Marxy is probably right.

    The expansive concept of having a right to one’s image is one of the most bizarre and annoying parts of Japanese law. I can understand being able to control commercial use of your likeness, but being able to keep other people from recording you altogether? (This is incidentally why there are no photos of people on Japanese Wikipedia — lawsuit paranoia.)

    I don’t think it’s a crime to violate someone’s image rights, though. I wonder what would happen if the guy kept taking pictures and resisted the security guards. He could probably claim assault if they got violent with him. If he published the pictures, of course, he could be in deep doo-doo.

  4. The concept of privacy in Japan is bizarre — you’re crammed in with others on the trains, and there’s no privacy at work if you’re in the typical lined-up desks layout. Coworkers think nothing of openly discussing salaries (in my experience in the U.S., a completely taboo topic). Your annual medical exam results are shared with countless numbers of people in your office, including your supervisor (I think that’s actually illegal in the U.S.). It’s also amazing the extremes to which TV newscasts go to block out faces of bystanders and license plate numbers. Yet people are paranoid about having their picture taken. I experienced this once about 10 years ago in Tokyo. I used to go to the same bar several times a week and got to know the regulars quite well. One day I bought a new digital camera and was playing around with it. I started to take a few photos at the bar, and everyone freaked out, practically yelling at me not to do it, apparently because it’s so easy to post digital photos online.

  5. Wouldn’t it be great if our resident lawyer did a brief intro to the concept of “image rights”, explaining why this is an oddball legal concept internationally, and how Japan ended up with it?

  6. “Wouldn’t it be great”

    Sure if you paid him $100 an hour to do so.

    According to Wikipedia, there is no specific statute guaranteeing “image rights”, but there are court cases that have upheld them in certain circumstances. In fact, Wikipedia states that the law specifically rejects “image rights” in cases such as the one above where the event participants know they are subject to being filmed. It is simply the policy of the organizers to get in people’s faces and act threateningly. I would like to see this sort of behavior more sharply criticized as it creates a dangerous precedent whereby the masses are barred from participating in the media since that is the province of rich and powerful “rightsholders.” People shouldn’t be able to censor others by claiming “publicity rights.”


    Slow down, tiger. I don’t think she was wearing anything too skimpy. There are plenty of issues with surreptitious photography but this isn’t one of them.

  7. – Generally, images of a person are not considered protected by image rights, but if a drawing of a criminal defendant is made public it may be considered a violation.

    – Race horses and other non-human objects considered to have publicity value never have image rights.

    – Some argue that all persons depicted in an image, and/or that image’s owner, are granted a right not to have that image taken, depicted, or published without their permission. Criminal suspects and victims are the most common people to have this right violated.

    – Peeping toms with cameras are dealt with under indecency laws, NOT image rights issues

    – People are not allowed to claim image rights if they are participating in an event or demonstration at which they should reasonably be aware that their image may be taken. However, some events such as sports exhibitions have recently initiated policies of asking people to refrain from taking pictures.

    – Police or other public authorities are not allowed to film the participants of a demonstration for no reason.

    – There are arguments for image rights in the realm of intellectual property. Famous persons may claim these rights due to the economic value of their image, perhaps in exchange for the privacy that they give up by entering the public sphere. Some call this the “right to publicity” and while it has no basis in law it is nonetheless strongly believed by those who stand to gain by it.

    – Stemming from this intellectual property claims, some have argued that copyright allows for the protection of one’s image. However, it should be noted that image rights are in a sense the *opposite* of copyright since the copyright of a photograph actually belongs to the photographer, regardless of any image rights claims.

    – In journalism (by policy if not by law), personal images may be used without permission if the public value of the image outweighs that person’s image rights.

    – Due to fears that rights granted by civil law will lose out to the constitution’s guarantees of free speech, talent agencies have recently begun including extremely detailed clauses in their contracts, such as “no edits, etc., shall be made to images without prior approval,” or “no excessive edits shall be permitted,” or “rights to edited images shall be transferred to the agency.”

    Wikipedia concludes as follows: “Under the current Japanese legal system, you cannot be punished criminally for taking photos or video without permission and posting them on the Internet or elsewhere, unless the images are of an indecent nature. Even civil law places no restrictions on this unless property rights are concerned. “

  8. Right, no criminal liability, but that doesn’t mean they can’t try to enforce the rights. It just means that they are limited in the ways that they can stop you. If they take your camera away, for instance, it would probably be considered theft. They can still get a court order if you do something which constitutes infringement, but then again, 2channel’s example has shown us how powerful court orders can be in this country…

    I would like to relate a similar story from my days in law school in Philly. I was waiting on the platform at the subway stop near campus when an odd little two-car train with no windows pulled in. This is an armored “money train” which they use when they empty and reload token machines in the evening.

    It was an unusual enough sight that a perky young student type decided she wanted a picture. She was standing pretty far away from the guards, far enough that they couldn’t stop her.

    Well, one of the guards, a ginormous beast of a man, no shorter than 200 cm and pretty girthy as well, came right up to her saying “Naw naw naw! You can’t take pictures! Delete that! NOW!”

    There was a bit of a squabble, but he was practically over her shoulder, looking at the screen of the camera, making sure she deleted it. With a big bastard like that guy staring at me I would be tempted to do the same, if I didn’t have a deceptively strong conception of my own civil rights.

    Anyway, I’m sure there is no law on the books in Philly about photographing a money train. It was probably made up on the spot because Baby Huey didn’t want to be photographed. I was sorely tempted to pull out my own camera and snap a picture as they were pulling away. Then blog it and call them fascist a-holes. But that wouldn’t be newsworthy since Philly is chock full of fascist a-holes.

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