Harassed at the US Bank building in Los Angeles

While getting harassed in front of the US Bank building
View on Flickr

January 15th, 2009 at 5:27pm, we were harassed by the security of the US Bank building for about five minutes.

I haven’t been harassed about taking photos in awhile, but when Maxwell1 wanted to go photowalking in the area around Civic Center and Pershing Square, I knew it’d happen.

For the record, the building(s) are incredibly visible in Google Maps using Street View.

A minute after Maxwell was up the stairs, as predicted, a security guard (Robert) came outside to confront us. The usual spiel spewed forth.

Them: “You can’t take photos here.”

Me: “Can I take your picture?”

Them: “No.” (At least I asked politely.)

I explained my right to take photos from public property, then reinforcements arrived in the form of a head security guard. He was pushy, disregarding anything I said.

I loosely quoted US Copyright Law, which states:

“The copyright in an architectural work that has been constructed does not include the right to prevent the making, distributing, or public display of pictures, paintings, photographs, or other pictorial representations of the work, if the building in which the work is embodied is located in or ordinarily visible from a public place.” [17 U.S.C. 120 (a)]

This set off the head honcho. He said the following:

  • They already had photos of us. Unlike Maxwell, I never got near the stairs because I knew they’d come out.
  • We’d be put on a special “list” and flagged as suspects. (Basically, possible terrorists.)
  • He asked for my identification, but I refused to comply.

Me: “Can we take photos of the building from across the street?”

Them: “No. We own…” listing property all around the block we were standing on

Me: “What if I went in front of another building and took photos?”

Them: “You could try, but we’ll tell them that you’re coming, too.”

Them: “If you don’t stop taking photos, we’ll call the police.” (I believe that’s coercion.)

At one point, I could tell that he started to lose his cool, asking why I was being belligerent (or something along those lines). I didn’t know that asking legitimate questions equal belligerence.


He pressed his earpiece and said something into his radio. I walked toward Maxwell, asking him if we had to go. (We were just killing time before going to a party.) As much as he wanted to figure this out, he was leery about getting arrested — and we had to go.

Me: “We’ve gotta leave.”

Them: “Good, because we were just about to ask you to leave.”

We went to the Los Angeles Public Library across the street. Maxwell took one last photo across the street, then we went inside. We explained the incident and was told that the street and sidewalk belong to the City of Los Angeles.

However, since 9/11, they take extra precautions because it’s the tallest building in Los Angeles and is home to many different [international] law firms and companies. (Oh, come on!)

We thanked her, still fed up, we went on our way.

My previous encounter was at the TCW building a few miles away.

I won’t quit taking photos, but these encounters are such a drain. Maybe I should just focus on ignoring them, continuing to take photos — especially if I’m on a sidewalk.

Photography is not a crime.

Update 1/16/2009 12:02pmGlass Steel and Stone website makes me feel a little better.

Watch out for the building’s security guards. They are poorly trained and believe their [minuscule] amount of power gives them the authority to restrict tourists from taking photographs of the building and of other buildings in the vicinity. They […] claimed […] that 1) U.S. Bank owns the public sidewalk and [all] of West Fifth Street, and 2) can decide who can take photographs. They are lying. [U.S. Bank, the owners, or the managers of the] building [don’t] have any legal authority to restrict photography [from] people who are standing outside the building property line.

Update 1/16/2009 3:39pm — Thanks to Carlos Miller for blogging about this.

Update 1/17/2009 12:47am — I’m returning to the scene with friends to take photos, protest and educate people. We’ll meet at 2pm on Sunday, January 18th, starting at Pershing Square. Thanks to Discarted for spreading the word. (More details)

From the “Know Your Rights” section at Discarted:

  1. Edit on 2018-06-05 22:41:36 PDT — As requested, I changed this name throughout the post. 

Published by

Bryan Villarin

Bryan works at Automattic. Cat whisperer. Sometimes, a photographer and card magician.

15 thoughts on “Harassed at the US Bank building in Los Angeles”

  1. Good on you, Bryan, for sticking up for yourself. I’ve never been told to stop taking photos. The closest I’ve come is while shooting at a public transport center. A security guard came up, asked me what I was doing, but in general was very polite about the whole situation.


  2. yea, what the security guard did was illegal he can’t say that, their like the TSA, you give them a badge and they think there God or something. You should tell US Bank’s PR dept. because photos of their building is like free advertising right?! and when a low paying security guard say’s no, it turns to negative PR. I don’t know just a thought. Keep on shooting though, love the photos.


    1. @James: I’m not sure what’s the best way to deal with this. I’m glad you’d make the trek, though! When we figure something out, I’ll let you know.

      @Shawn: Is it worse in Washington D.C.?

      @Peppery: I hope it never escalates for you. We have enough problems to deal with, let alone worry about being called a “terrorist.”

      @Scott Penton: Thanks for the comment and I’m glad you’re loving the photos. Maybe I should email someone at the US Bank building (if possible) to get their thoughts in writing.


  3. On public sidewalks or roadways, I keep taking photos of anyone bothering me. And invite anyone to call the real cops, though I might not in Oakland or Chicago.

    The dumber and more slobby the security guard is, the better the picture will be. Go up to Santa Monica on a weekend and practice idiot candids just to get some experience. Also practice tag teaming with a wing man. While the primary photographer is using a good DSLR have the wing man use a point & shoot or cell phone. If they grab for the cell phone, dial 911. In most states, grabbing the phone in the middle of a police call would be interference with an emergency communications, a jailable offense.

    The last fellow who tried to grab a camera from me went rolling over a truck side mirror.


  4. Bummer dude. I wanted to go to the protest, but I was holed up with Multivariable Calc homework. I hope it went well. Funny I was shooting right around those stairs not too long ago with my Pentax (film) and I didn’t get harassed at all. I shot quite a few frames as well.


    1. @Marcus: No worries, I know you were swamped with homework. It’s alright.

      I thought it went very well!

      By the way, I saw that photo. I can’t believe nobody came out. It’s just one of those things, I guess.


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