Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Cameras are Everywhere, So Don't Stop Me from Using Them

I’m standing in the pit at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Roswell, Georgia, watching Arcade Fire, less than 50 feet from the stage. I’ve got my tiny video camera, an Aiptek HD, pointed directly at Win Butler as he croons “No Cars Go” with the help of 7,000 fans. I keep the camera low and the LCD pointed down so it doesn’t get in the way of anyone standing behind me. Suddenly I feel a tap on my left shoulder.

“You need to come with me,” a security guard yells over the roar of the sound system. I look at my wife.

“I’ll be right back,” I say, “They want my camera.”

As I slip out of the crowd, he leads me up to the will call booth. “You can’t use a video camera here,” he informs me, “But you can pick it up after the show.” I ask him why I can’t use my crappy home video camera as I discreetly slip the SD card out of the bottom of the device.

“It’s against venue policy. Sorry, I don’t make the rules.” He takes me to a woman who is in charge of snapping on wristbands for alcohol-age concertgoers, and asks her to escort me to the will call booth.

“Quickly!” I yell, “This is my favorite song, and I’m missing it.” She jogs alongside me as we head to the beginning of this massive complex of concrete.

“He needs to check his camera here,” she informs the people at the booth.

“Sorry you guys, I didn’t think there’d be a problem considering that there’s hundreds of people down there using their camera phones,” I say as I fill out a form with my contact information on it. They then release me back into the venue. They're all nice about it, and I don’t put up a fight. I just head back down into the crowd, stand next to my wife, take the GoPro camera out of my pocket which has been recording the entire time, and shoot the rest of the show.

This actually happened to me last August. The whole time (and you can see them clearly on the video) there were at least three or four people within arm’s reach that were taking pictures and video with their phones. I can hardly see what the venue’s got against this, except that they want to have complete control over the patrons of their establishment. They probably think that money might be lost due to the video showing online. When I got home, I checked the FAQ on their website to see what it says about cameras:

Cameras are allowed subject to event. Please check the event-specific voice recording by calling (404) 733-5010. If cameras are allowed by the artist, you may bring in a non-professional (point-and-shoot) style camera with no removable lenses.

When I called the recording, I was basically told the same thing: Cameras are ok unless they’re professional-level devices. Okay, I can see their point there. The band and venue don’t want people to be making money from the sale of professional-grade photos or video of their likeness. They own their image, and tend to have the ability to restrict others from capturing it while they’re performing. At least, that’s the way it was in the past.

In case you haven’t noticed, everyone’s carrying a camera everywhere they go. There’s no way to stop it. It’s extremely useful, and actually acts as a safety device, requiring those in public to accept responsibility for their actions. Having cameras everywhere—in the hands of average citizens—is actually a really good thing for the benefit of us all. At the same time, it presents an impossible task for those who wish to restrict their use. The Verizon Wireless Amphitheater has accepted this, saying that use of your camera phone is acceptable, but professional-level cameras are asking a bit much.

And when it comes to video, there’s really no difference. They don’t want a shoulder-mounted camera going in with a high-quality microphone to make superb bootlegs, but they understand that it’s pretty much impossible to stop you from used your phone camera to record a low-quality video of the performance which will end up being for the benefit of yourself and your friends, and maybe a few people who come across the video on Youtube.

I’ve lamented the mass use of phone cameras in concert venues before, as I proposed that the use of Color in one of these situations would result in the user ending up with hundreds of terrible photos, and there’s more than enough grainy, blurry videos with distorted and over-driven sound hanging out on the web. But this content isn’t stopping me from purchasing concert tickets; if anything, it’s advertising the show for me.

In fact, three days before Arcade Fire played in Atlanta, they live-broadcasted their New York City performance on Youtube, directed by Terry Gilliam. I watched the entire thing and was excited about the show. It most definitely didn’t make me less likely to see them play in my home town.

I don’t exactly know why my video camera was confiscated, considering the venue’s policy, but I’m not that upset about it. It doesn’t really benefit me or anyone to have that video, but their confiscation really just turned me off from heading back to the venue for another $125 dump of money. Business owners, take note: Harassing your patrons is bad for profits.

But just when I thought we had all accepted that the world is different these days, and ever-changing, and privacy, copyright, and distribution need to be approached from a different angle due to existing and ubiquitous technology, Apple decided to throw a roadblock in front of logical progress. The company has patented technology that tells iPhones to disable its cameras when the owner is in a “no-camera” zone, which generally applies to venues specifically. The idea is that the venue would somehow be broadcasting a signal that would tell your phone to shut down the camera’s functions.

However, this isn’t going to change anything, it’s just going to slow progress. Not everyone uses iPhones, and those that do and are highly inclined will find a way around it. Plus, there are hundreds of pocket-sized point-and-shoot cameras that people will use instead. This sounds more like a way for Apple to alienate its own users by actually providing for circumstances in which their phones become less useful.

Not only is this futile, it’s a bit disturbing. If venues have the authority and technology to shut off your camera, what’s stopping anyone else from doing it? What if riot police broadcast a similar signal so they could enjoy beating you? What if I intend to use my phone to capture a crime in progress, like a person being severely beaten in the crowd of the concert? Apple doesn’t have any personal motivation that I can see to restrict the use of their phones, so this is clearly a business decision that works with the record companies that they partner with for iTunes.

Venue owners need to give up the fight and accept that they can’t control the actions of thousands of people who are all armed with cameras. It’s never going to stop, and it’s just going to incense them. By the way, here's nearly the entire concert I attended, pieced together with videos from the crowd (none of which are mine):

Ready to Start
Neighborhood #2 (Laika)
No Cars Go
Half Light II (No Celebration)
Empty Room
The Suburbs
Ocean of Noise 
Keep the Car Running
We Used to Wait
Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)
Rebellion (Lies)
Month of May
Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels) 

Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)
Wake Up


  1. I pretty much don't attend live music anymore because of cell phones and cameras. Put the shit down and enjoy the show. It's like our memories just aren't good enough or something...

  2. Yeah, I agree. It came to a radicoulous point in mu opinion. I love going to live concert (I'm a big metal/rock fan) and yes I can take a few pictures but never recorded the whole show or was taking tons of pictures throughout the entire show. I go there so see my favorite band and actually enjoy it.

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