No photography allowed / by Dan Lockton

A couple of recent stories on photography of certain items being 'banned' - Cory Doctorow on a Magritte exhibition's hypocrisy, and Jen Graves on a sculpture of which "photography is prohibited" - highlight what makes me tense up and want to scream about so much of the 'intellectual property debate': photons are no more regulable than bits. And bits, like knowledge itself, aren't regulable either (Cory again). Just as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me, so he who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine (Jefferson, via Scott Carpenter). So this sign available from ACID (Anti-Copying In Design) made me laugh with astonishment, and cringe a little:

No photography allowed, from ACID
Image from an ACID leaflet, "You wouldn't say that copying was the sincerest form of flattery if it cost you your business". The sign doesn't seem to be shown on ACID's Deterrent Products online store.

I understand what ACID is trying to do, and unlike most anti-copying initiatives, ACID is set up specifically to protect the little guy rather than enormous intransigent oligarchies. ACID's sample legal agreements and advice for freelancers on dealing with clients, registering designs, etc, are great initiatives and I'm sure they've been a fantastic help to a lot of young designer-makers.

But a sign 'banning' photography at exhibitions? At design exhibitions where new aesthetic ideas are the primary reason for most visitors attending? That seems hopelessly naïve, akin to a child defensively wrapping his or her arm around a piece of work to stop the kid at the next desk copying what's being written, but then pleading with teacher to put it up on the wall.

And I would have thought, to be honest, that "with phone cameras your ideas... [being] sent globally within seconds" is more likely to lead to instant fame and international recognition for the designer on sites such as Cool Hunting, We Make Money Not Art, or Core77 than (presumably unauthorised) "mass production". But maybe I'm wrong: I'm sure you'll let me know!

Most young designers are desperate for exposure. I know every design exhibition I've shown stuff at (not many, to be fair), I've been delighted when someone photographs my work. ACID's sign also raises the question, of course, whether when someone displaying the sign actually sells a piece of work, it comes with a label attached telling the purchaser than he or she may not photograph it, or show it to friends. Wouldn't that be a logical extension?

P.S. We've looked before at actual technologies to 'prevent' photography, such as Georgia Tech's CCD-blinder and Hewlett-Packard's "remote image degradation" device (in the wider context of "plugging the analogue hole"). As I replied to a commenter on the Georgia Tech story:

It won’t be too long (20 years?) before photographic (eidetic) memory and computers start to overlap (or even interface), to some extent, even if it’s only a refinement of something like the Sensecam. What’s going to happen then? If I can ‘print out’ anything I’ve ever seen, on a whim, why will I worry about what anyone else thinks?