LibraryLaw Blog answers the question “Can you prohibit people from taking pictures of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road manuscript on display at the library?”
The short answer: yes.
The long answer: It all depends.
My take: I see two relationships here. First, the manuscript owner has a contract with the library. It likely has a clause requiring the library to prohibit photographs. Second, the library has a relationship with the public. Although it’s unlikely that the library requires the public to sign an agreement before entering the exhibit area, the library has the right to enforce reasonable rules of conduct, related to its mission. Kreimer v. Morristown 958 F. 2d 1241 (3d Cir. 1992). Assuming the library does a reasonable job putting patrons on notice and enforces the policy equally (i.e. no one takes photographs), I believe it has the right to enforce the policy.
There seems to be this mistaken idea that, because the library is a public building, anyone can do anything they want. That libraries can’t regulate whether people eat there, bathe there, behave offensively or violate copyright laws.
At the same time, there are arguments trying to get the library to regulate more. Patiot act, filtering, policing the patrons to find criminals, prohibiting adults from being in children’s areas unaccompanied by a child… the past few years have really seen a pendulum of activitiy.
Then there is the practical aspect – it is a public library, after all, and doesn’t have the capacity to require people to check their cameras at the door. All it can do is post signs and security guards, and then tell someone to leave if they violate the policy.
It is a public library, and doean’t have the capacity to require people to _______________. (insert action here)
With staffing shortages, budget cuts and not enough security, no library in the country is going to have the same ability to monitor patrons behaviors as a commercial establishment. All they can do is create the rule and, when possible, enforce it.