Pershing Square concert
Pershing Square concert. Photo via Twitter

Will news photographers be banned from taking pictures or video of the rock band Toad the Wet Sprocket at Saturday night’s giant free outdoor concert at Pershing Square in downtown Los Angeles?

How about upcoming concerts of AirPlay on Wednesday or even the famed B-52s on Aug. 12?

So far Los Angeles officials say pro photog pictures won’t be allowed because of contractual obligations with the bands that prohibit pictures or video at concerts, just as is the case with many indoor, non-public venues.

But the photographers say a public place is a public place, and that’s Pershing Square.

The venerable site named for a First World War general has landed in the middle of a First Amendment debate between the Los Angeles officials and a group of journalism organizations as the city attempts to enforce the photography ban in the park during an upcoming series of concerts there.

The Radio Television Digital News Organization, the National Press Photographers Association, the Society of Professional Journalists and other journalism organizations all sent a letter along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California to Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer and Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks General Manager Michael A. Shull objecting to the ban.

The city is attempting to enforce the ban at Pershing Square in downtown during the upcoming concerts by arguing it is contractually obligated to the acts performing to prohibit all photos and video, according to the RTDNO. A spokeswoman with the Department of Recreation and Parks did not respond to a request to comment.

“Pershing Square is a public forum, and remains one during the Summer Concert Series. The park does not suddenly become a non-public forum even if the city in some way yields control of the park to a concert promoter or other private party during the concerts, contrary to the city’s belief and practice … Numerous courts have rejected the argument that private contracting over traditional public forums abrogates the government’s First Amendment obligations,” the letter reads.

The letter also said the proposed ban is “unconstitutionally overbroad because it prohibits a large range of activities that do not violate copyright law.”

The California Broadcasters Association, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the American Photographic Artists, the American Society of Media Photographers, the Digital Media Licensing Association, the Freedom of the Press Foundation, the Professional Photographers of America, and Reporters Without Borders also sent the letter.

The groups said they also object to a rule prohibiting the distribution of pamphlets, flyers, or other printed, non-commercial materials at the park during the concert series and said it violates First Amendment rights.

“If the city intends to stand by these restrictions, the ACLU will consider all appropriate action to address these constitutional violations,” the letter concludes.

—City News Service

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