Chicago's Bean sculpture is free to photograph, at last

Back in February, I blogged about the Bean, a mirrored statue in Chicago's Millennium Park. The $270 million park was built with public funds, and then the Bean was donated by SBC, which got an enormous tax break (while the Chicago taxpayer inherited the upkeep bill).

The park's management then set out to turn this prominent public sculpture into a moneymaker. They set out ruinous rates for professional photographers, wedding photos, and videographers, and then used the publicly funded security staff to enforce this ban. The security guards went around, kicking out anyone who looked like they may be a "professional" photographer, which meant anyone with a nice camera and/or a tripod.

The park tried to excuse its abominable betrayal of the public trust (imagine -- a public place that the public can't document!) by claiming that the copyright in the sculpture vested in the sculptor and they were required to police the unauthorized photographing of this copyrighted work on his behalf. Now, there is an exemption in copyright law for public sculpture, but even if there wasn't, the city should never have acquired a sculpture without acquiring the right for its residents to photograph themselves with it, and even if they failed to do so, it certainly isn't the park's responsibility to police the copyrights of the sculptures in it. I mean, there are lots of copyrighted works in the park, from the logos on the security guard's uniforms to the fast-food menus in the garbage cans -- should the park be in charge of providing free enforcement duties for all the rightsholders whose works are placed within its bounds?

Now the park has reversed its position and will no longer be requiring a permit for simply photographing the Bean (if you bring a big crew, they'll charge you for it, which is reasonable, given the public inconvenience such generates). They've also manufactured a new reason that they had been charging for permits to photograph the public's artwork: they needed to count how many photographers were around to ensure that the park wasn't clogged with unruly photographers. Now, Chicago has a lot of public art, like that big ole Picasso in front of the Daley Center (as mentioned in the Blues Brothers) and they haven't, to my knowledge, ever had a crowd-control problem arising from the thundering hordes of shutterbugs and paparazzi who throng the nearby thoroughfares in their eagerness to get a snap, clogging the public byways.

But let's give this moronic excuse the benefit of our doubt: can we imagine a better way of counting the photographers in the park than requiring a $350 permit? How about a free permit? How about a machine you punch if you're a photographer, which increments a counter? A web-form? A park employee with a little clicker that counts the public?

"We weren't trying to make money," she said. "But we needed to know how many people were going to be at elements of the park."
Link (Thanks, Lauren!)