Response to Go Topless Day 2014 in Phoenix

2013 Topless Freedom Day by rahmmason from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

2013 Topless Freedom Day by rahmmason from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I’m a big advocate for equal rights – whether we’re talking about gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, etc. I firmly believe that the law should apply equally to everyone and I’m grateful that the U.S. Supreme Court supported that ideal when they decided that “separate is not equal” in 1896.

Last weekend, I participated in the third annual Go Topless Day Protest in Phoenix. The purpose of Go Topless Day is to bring awareness to the fact that there in gender inequality under the decency law in my places (Phoenix included). Since men are allowed to be shirtless in public and women are not, everyone covered their areolas at this protest because women are required to. If we want to say that men and women are equal then everyone should be able to be shirtless or everyone should have to cover up.

About three dozen people showed up for the event in Phoenix, as did the press. I was interviewed by Fox 10 – who tried to be creative by doing a Garden of Eden thing – which made me look more naked than I really was. We gathered at Steele Indian School Park and marched up and down Central Avenue where we were met with lots of honks, cheers, and people taking photos. Fox posted a link to their footage on Facebook, and the last time I checked, it had over 1,100 likes and over 600 comments.

 

This is an issue about equality, not sexuality. How can we tell women and girls that they are equal to their male counterparts and then treat them differently under the law? I reached out to my elected representatives recently about this issue and was disappointed when none of them responded. They’re all up for re-election this November and I’ll keep that in mind when I’m filling out my ballot.

By requiring women to cover up, I think it promotes the objectification of women and the notion that women should be ashamed of their bodies. I shared some of those thoughts earlier this year on my personal blog.

I wanted to share some of the reactions to Fox 10 Phoenix’s coverage of the event as well as my thoughts. (I corrected the grammar and spelling mistakes.)

Ok, walk around topless. But don’t get mad when I look at them.
Looking is fine – especially if you can be discreet about it. Ogling and leering is not.

Hey I don’t want to see either, man or woman, keep the shirts on.
That’s fine. All I want is for the law to be the same for men and women.

I don’t need my son seeing women walk around topless.
I’m sure there are lots of things you don’t want you kids to see that are legal.

I’m a woman and would rather not go topless.
Ok. When women were given the right to vote, we didn’t force you to do it. We just gave you the option. There are lots of things that I can legally do but I choose not to because I don’t like it – eat sushi, wear flip flops, and listen to heavy metal music are on my list – but if you want to enjoy them, go right ahead. Plenty of guys choose to keep their shirts on and so can you if the law is changed.

I will go along as long as there is an age and weight limit to it.
Will you support age and weight limits for men too?

Those women who want to walk around topless are going to attract perverts and sex offenders. They need to keep their shirts on for their own safety.
They are asking to get raped and or assaulted.
You’re kidding, right? No one deserves to be sexually assaulted regardless of what they’re wearing.

A woman’s breast is still considered to be an object of sexuality and till that changes – things will never be equal.
This is a great point and that as a society we need to examine how objectified women are.  Don’t look at anyone as if they only exist for your visual or physical enjoyment. They are a person, not a piece of meat.

While they are at it, have them sign up for the draft. Silly women, they don’t realize we have it so good.
I’d support making everyone sign up for the draft at 18 years old. If I want gender equality, I can’t pick and choose which laws change.

To those who claimed that the people who participated in this event are pot heads, hoes, or have no morals, you couldn’t be more wrong.

Special thanks to Fox 10 Phoenix, Downtown Devil, and the Phoenix New Times for covering this event and thank you to the Phoenix Police Department who kept us safe during the protest.

If you want to follow this issue in Arizona, check out Topless AZ on Facebook. You can also chat with me about it by commenting below, connecting with me on TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+YouTube, or send me an email. If you want more information about Carter Law Firm, please visit the homepage.

The Legalities of Feeding Expired Parking Meters in Phoenix – According to the Police

Parking Meter by Lauri Väin from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Parking Meter by Lauri Väin from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Starting on August 1st, Phoenix is changing to variable prices at its parking meters. Depending on when and where you park, the rate could range from $0.50 to $4.00/hour. This is a big change from the $1.50/hour rate that used to be at every meter. The other big change is enforcement times will be every day from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m. – no more free nights and weekends.

The Phoenix City Council said they’re making this change in part because of the city’s $37.7 million deficit and that these new rates will bring in $800,000 for the city. I wonder how much of this expected amount is based on people paying to park versus getting tickets for expired meters.

Some people are upset by the increase – like students at the ASU downtown campus and people who work downtown. I’ve seen people on social media say that the increase will decrease the likelihood of them coming downtown, or if they do, that they’ll take the light rail ($4 for an all-day pass is probably cheaper than paying $4/hour to park). On the other hand, the increase has given me a chance to a flash mob I’ve been thinking of for years.

My partners-in-crime and I all have day jobs so our shenanigans are mostly restricted to the weekend. I had an idea years ago about being parking meter fairies – dressing up in tutus, wings, and the like and feeding people’s expired meters. Now that people will have to pay to park on the weekends, we’ll finally have a chance to pull this off if we want.

I contacted the City of Phoenix Police Department and asked them about the legalities of feeding other people’s expired parking meters and here’s what they said:

“I am not aware of any City ordinance that precludes you from putting money into someone else parking meter here in Phoenix. I know there are jurisdictions that prohibit that activity. The only concern I have is if a person were to put money in a meter after a vehicle was cited or somehow interfered with a parking enforcement officer that could be a violation of the law.”

I interpret this to mean that it’s OK to feed an expired meter (while wearing a tutu and glitter) as long as the vehicle doesn’t already have a ticket on it. (I know it’s illegal to do this in other cities, so do your research before you try to pull off a similar stunt.)

Flash Mob Law bookBesides my flash mob idea, I wonder if downtown businesses will feed their patrons’ parking meters in front of their establishments or if someone will create a sponsored crew of meter feeders like the Surfers Paradise Meter Maids in Australia.

As always, if you want to do a flash mob, do you research in advance to ensure that you don’t set yourself up to get sued or arrested because of your event. If you need a resource, check out my book Flash Mob Law or contact me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me. You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Is That Legal – Flash Weddings

Photo by Maggie Winters for Pop! Wed Co., used with permission

Photo by Maggie Winters for Pop! Wed Co., used with permission

I saw an article on NPR the other day about a company that is helping couples elope in creative ways – with flash weddings. Pop! Wed Co. is an all-in-one elopement concierge in Washington, D.C., run by photographer Maggie Winters and secular humanist officiant Steven Gaudaen. The two select the location, obtain the marriage license, take the photographs, and perform the ceremony. They show that a fast wedding doesn’t have to be plain.

According to the article, they never get permission or a permit for any of the locations and they have been asked to leave a few venues. Apparently Gaudaen finished the ceremony for one couple while they were being escorted out of the Natural History Museum so they could still claim the location on the marriage certificate.

I’ve had a few people over the years approach me because they wanted to have a flash mob wedding and they wanted to know if it was legal. Of course the answer is always, “It depends.”

For years I’ve said I’m going to elope on a street corner on a Tuesday. If weddings weren’t also a reunion of family and friends, I would definitely elope because all the decision that go into planning a wedding will make me crazy. If you want to have your wedding on public property – like a park, or a street corner, or the beach – you can probably get away doing a ceremony in a few minutes as long as you’re not interfering with other’s enjoyment or use of the space. If you turn it into a production where you have a full set up and take over the area, that’s when you draw attention, and that’s a situation where municipalities require you to get some type of event permit.

If you want to have you flash wedding on private property – like a church, art gallery, or museum – you probably have to move quickly to avoid getting caught. These places are open to the public so you’re welcome to walk in, but if you don’t leave when requested, you could be trespassing. If your flash wedding causes a big commotion, police might try to give you a citation for something like disturbing the peace or disorderly conduct.

I think flash weddings are pretty innocuous as long as they’re performed with the right spirit. These are the biggest potential risks I see.

  • If the venue normally charges a fee to hold a wedding at their location and they find out that you had a flash wedding without their permission, they could send the couple or the organizers a bill . . . but then they’d be the jerks who sent a bill for a five-minute wedding ceremony that didn’t interfere with their space.
  • If the organizers have previously been kicked out of a place for doing a flash wedding there and they try to pull off another one at the same venue, they might be at risk for trespassing because they know they were using the space for an unauthorized purpose.

If you’re looking for a resource about the legalities of flash mobs, I wrote an entire book about it called Flash Mob Law: The Legal Side of Planning and Participating in Pillow Fights, No Pants Rides, and Other Shenanigans. In it, I share the process I go through as a flash mob organizer to help ensure that no one’s going to get sued or arrested during or after an event.

If you want to chat about flash mobs or other guerilla events, feel free to connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me. You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

High School Senior Pranks and the Law

Punking Neal's Office: The glow of the prankster god by Jake Sutton from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Punking Neal’s Office: The glow of the prankster god by Jake Sutton from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

This is the time of year that high school seniors are scheming about their senior prank instead of studying for finals.  If you’re going to do a senior prank, think about all the things that might go wrong (especially if people show up drunk or high or get carried away) or that you might be accused of doing wrong and try to mitigate those types of problems in advance.

Just being on the school property after hours might be enough to get you arrested for trespassing and the charges could be worse if you break into the school.  Your state or city may also have a catch-all law like malicious mischief or disturbing the peace. Your city might have a curfew law so you want to be careful if anyone participating is under 18. On the flip side, if you’re 18 and you get arrested, you will be charged as an adult and your name will likely appear in your local newspaper.

Regardless of your age, getting arrest curing your senior prank could result in you incurring legal fees and fines, being banned from graduation activities, having your college acceptance rescinded, and being fired from your job if you’re at-will employee.

If you’re going to do a senior prank, do your homework in advance. Look around your school for security cameras, motion sensors, and security guards. And talk with your fellow conspirators in advance about your plans, what you need to do to stay out of trouble, and not sharing pictures and videos of your shenanigans if you take any at all (which I don’t recommend).

Senior pranks should be creative and fun for everyone – including the school administration. I did some research and these are some of the pranks that made me smile: forking the lawn, filling the hallway with cups of water, putting a car on the roof or around the flag pole, making interesting pictures/patterns on the walls with post-it notes, filling a prominent room with balloons, messing with people’s head with matching outfits or re-enacting scenes from a movie or video game, hiding small battery-operated alarm clocks all over campus – each set to go off at a different time, putting googly eyes and mustaches on inanimate objects, constructing a swing set somewhere, covering the lawn with gnomes or plastic flamingos, or filling the pool with rubber ducks.

So here’s my list of senior prank dos and don’ts as a prankster and a lawyer:

  • Be innocuous
  • Be funny – You’re less likely to get in trouble if the alleged victims are laughing
  • Be witty
  • Be creative – What if you filled the principals’ office with canned goods and at the end of the day, it all went to a food bank
  • Be easy enough to clean up
  • Be safe – Don’t create a hazard with oil, bouncy balls in the hallways
  • Be temporary – Don’t graffiti the school
  • Be clean – Don’t spill trash cans or spray silly string everywhere
  • Don’t steal anything – This includes stealing keys to get into the school
  • Don’t destroy, damage, or vandalize anything
  • Don’t be gross – Don’t do want those kids in New Jersey did and pee on the floor.

For full disclosure, I participated in my class’ senior prank when I was in high school. We had to be super cheesy and harmless because the previous two years’ classes were destructive and people got arrested. I was 17 at the time (and breaking curfew) and my parents explicitly told me not to call home until after breakfast if I got arrested. We had fun and nothing bad happened.

If you have any questions about the legalities of flash mobs or pranks, feel free to contact me. If you want a resource about the legal dos and don’ts about these topics, please check out my book, Flash Mob Law.

You can also connect with me on TwitterGoogle+FacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, and you can subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Is That Legal: The Mannequin Mob

Mannequin Mob Group Photo by Arin Sang-urai, used with permission

Mannequin Mob Group Photo by Arin Sang-urai, used with permission

Recently Improv Everywhere organized a group of 40 agents who donned white MorphsuitsTM to do a prank where they posed as mannequins in the Gap. They all wore Gap-style clothing over their Morphsuits and walked in the store with their masks off. At the designated time the group simultaneously put on their masks and froze in place like the mannequins in the store which are also all white.

Some of the employees seemed to think it was funny but one concerned employee called 911. The police showed up and put many of the performers in handcuffs. Charlie Todd, the founder of Improv Everywhere, explained the situation and everyone was released without incident.  It was pretty funny overall – even the police were laughing by the end.

Let’s look at the legal questions behind this prank.

Is It Legal to Enter a Store to do a Prank?
That’s an interesting question. Stores are open to the public, even for people who are just browsing and have no intention of buying anything.  So it’s legal to enter a store during business hours for reasons other than making a purchase. If you’re not interfering with the store’s operations or others’ ability to shop, you are less likely to have any problems.

This is not the first prank that involved messing with store employees. Improv AZ definitely raised some eyebrows when we did the Apple Store Flash Mob and Improv Everywhere had to deal with the police during their Best Buy Prank.

Did the Group Commit Trespassing?
Probably not. You’re usually not trespassing in a store where the public is welcome to be until you refuse to obey a request that you leave.  From what I heard, the group was told to leave the store immediately and peacefully if requested to do so, but the employee called 911 instead.

Charlie Todd in Handcuffs by Arin Sang-urai, used with permission

Charlie Todd in Handcuffs by Arin Sang-urai, used with permission

Did the Gap Employee Overreact by Calling 911?
I think so. A more reasonable reaction would have been to use the store’s PA system to announce that everyone who was dressed up like a mannequin needed to leave the store and then call the police if they didn’t comply.

Is There a Problem with Wearing a Mask in a Store?
Possibly. Most businesses don’t have a sign that says “No Masks,” but they are often not allowed. Apparently robbers wear them. Improv AZ ran into a problem with this rule when they tried to walk through a mall (just walking, not doing anything wrong) during the first Epic Super Hero Battle. The group was not allowed to proceed until everyone removed anything that was covering their faces.

Is There a Problem with Filming or Taking Photos in a Store?
Perhaps. Each store sets its own rules about whether photography or filming is permitted. If you’re doing a prank in a mall, the entire mall may have a rule against shooting photos or videos so do your homework in advance. Be sure to check out Arin Sang-urai’s photos from this prank to see images of the hidden cameras Improv Everywhere used.

Could the Group have been Arrested for Disturbing the Peace?
Probably not. The group didn’t excessively disrupt the store. I would say the employee did when they called 911. There didn’t appear to be any problems while the police were sorting out what was going on and most people, if not everyone, was smiling by the end.

Could the Group be Banned from the Gap?
Sure. The store has the right to refuse service to anyone. The have the prerogative to ban problematic patrons. This banning would likely only apply to that particular store, not every Gap, and probably it wouldn’t preclude them from shopping at the Gap online. If anyone was banned from the store, and they entered the premises after the banning began, then they would be trespassing. Some of the members of Improv AZ ran into this problem when we were banned from a mall for three months following the Coroner Prank 2.

Please check out Arin Sang-urai’s photos from The Mannequin Mob. They’re outstanding.

If you have any questions about the legalities of flash mobs, pranks, or any type of guerilla marketing, feel free to contact me. If you want a resource about the legal dos and don’ts about these topics, please check out my book, Flash Mob Law.

You can also connect with me on TwitterGoogle+FacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, and you can subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Should You Blog About Your Crimes?

Crime Scene by Alan Cleaver from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Crime Scene by Alan Cleaver from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Recently I had an interesting conversation with my friend Joe Manna. He wanted to write a blog pot about his experience driving a Prius and he had concerns about disclosing the fact that he was speeding – not just a little over the limit, but driving over 100 mph.

Luckily under the law the burden is on the prosecution to build a case against you. As far as we know, no one from law enforcement saw him speeding and we really don’t know which city/county he was in when this occurred, or even if he was in California or Arizona. Frankly all we have is his claim that he was speeding and anyone who’s ever heard a fishing story knows how much someone’s word can be taken at face value. As far as I know there’s no physical evidence of what actually happened.

Joe’s question brought up a good point – be careful about what you post online and aware of what others post about you. If you disclose that you committed a crime and post videos or pictures from it, that could be evidence that could be used against you.

Think about all the stories you’ve heard about burglars that were caught after they took pictures of themselves with their loot and high school pranksters who took pictures of themselves doing their senior prank or stealing their rival’s mascot.  They were busted in part due to their own stupidity.

This is one of the risks we take in the flash mob world. After each event, we post the blog, photos, and video from the flash mob so people can enjoy our shenanigans. If we did anything illegal during the flash mob, we just admitted it and probably gave law enforcement the evidence they need to prosecute us.

So does Joe have anything to worry about? Probably not. The worst thing he probably has to worry about is he’s put the police on notice that he speeds so maybe the cops in his neighborhood might pay a bit more attention to him when they see him out and about.

Can you blog about your crimes? Of course! Should you? That’s a different question. Think hard about the potential consequences of the post before you tell the internet-accessible world about your wrongdoings. You never know where that information will end up and what those people will do with it.

If you want more information on this topic, please check out my books The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed and Flash Mob Law: The Legal Side of Planning and Participating in Pillow Fights, No Pants Rides, and Other Shenanigans.

You can connect with me on TwitterGoogle+FacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me.
You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Prankk Bros vs Providence Police Officer

 

Alien Invasion Prank by the Freaky the Snowman Guys

Alien Invasion Prank by the Freaky the Snowman Guys

Jay Lichtenberger of Prankk Bros and RipFilms, best known for the Freaky the Scary Snowman pranks and videos asked me for my take on their latest Alien Invasion Prank and their run-in with the police. I’m a fan of Freaky the Scary Snowman and the guys seem to be pretty mindful about what they’re doing to make sure that everyone has a good time.

In their latest stunt, they have one of their guys dressed up as a giant alien who surprises people coming around the corner in Providence, Rhode Island.  They surprised a lot of people (but wouldn’t you be if you encountered a seven-foot tall person?) but everyone on the video seemed to enjoy it. I really appreciated that the alien was careful not to touch anyone initially. Look when he comes around the corner – his palms are open and his hands are up and away from the people.

The alien took a lot of pictures with people, including with someone’s baby at the request of the mother. He gave high fives and hugs, danced with people, and played with someone’s puppy. When the police rolled up, they acknowledged their risk of liability and that they were being careful to which the officer said, “Have fun.”

For at least one of their locations, they had permission from the business owner to carry on with their prank outside the place of business. Despite this permission, a different police officer ordered them to leave. Apparently this is the same officer who gave them a hard time about Freaky. I love how the Providence cop kicked them out but the Newport police officer thought it was hilarious and just watched from down the street.

What about the cop on the alien video who said he told them to stop twice in two days, but from two different locations? I think it’s reasonable for the guys to think that maybe they couldn’t be on public property doing a prank one day but think it might be ok to get permission from the business owner to do the same stunt a different day at the business’ location. If anything, it shows a desire to comply with the law.

The video shows the officer threatening to arrest the guys for failure to move, which sounds like failure to comply with an order from law enforcement, which is a crime. It was interesting that the officer did not cite any other laws that the guys could be accused of breaking. The video also didn’t show the officer say anything about receiving complaints. I wonder if the guys are acting completely within the laws and this officer just doesn’t like them.

I appreciate the other officer who suggested that the guys file a complaint against the officer with internal affairs at the police station, especially when he said, “Don’t let them knock you down either.” What these guys are doing is definitely a violation of social norms; but if it’s not a violation of any laws, leave them alone. If there is a violation, tell them so they know what not to do next time.

The RipFilm guys may want to give up on doing pranks in Providence if filing the complaint against the police officer doesn’t work out. But at least they know that Newport will welcome them with open arms.

If you want more information about how to stay out of troule while doing pranks, please check out my book Flash Mob Law: The Legal Side of Planning and Participating in Pillow Fights, No Pants Rides, and Other Shenanigans.

You can connect with me on TwitterGoogle+FacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me.
You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Go Topless Day 2013

scar web by istolethetv from Flickr

scar web by istolethetv from Flickr

International Go Topless Day is coming up on Sunday, August 25th. I’m not kidding; it’s a real holiday aimed at bringing awareness to gender inequality when it comes to how much of your torso you have to have covered when you walk out of the house.

In every state in the U.S., men can walk around in public without wearing a shirt. The same is generally not true for women. Every state has a law against showing at least part of the female breast in public. In Arizona, women must keep their areolas covered so women can go shirtless in public as long as their wearing at least a pair of pasties, band-aids, or pieces of electrical tape. Other states, like California, are weird and require women to cover not only their areolas but also the bottom half of their breasts at all times. (Who would have thought that California would be more closed-minded than Arizona on this issue?)

There are a handful of cities that have passed local laws that allow men and women to be topless in public – like New York, Washington D.C., and Austin. (I wish I knew that when I was at SXSW.) These laws are technically unconstitutional but the states have bigger fish to fry than to go after a handful of topless women.

Wherez all da love ppl? by TheeErin from Flickr

Wherez all da love ppl? by TheeErin from Flickr

To bring awareness to the inequality between men and women under these indecent exposure laws, Go Topless protests have been organized in a handful of cities. At these events, if it’s illegal for women to be topless in public in that city, men and women are encouraged to dress within the limits of the law for women by wearing pasties, body paint, bikini tops, or the like. If the city law allows both genders to be topless in public, it’s more of a celebration and everyone’s encouraged to bare their chest. (If you want to wear pasties, I strongly recommend Nippies – they’re high quality and have an excellent adhesive.)

Please check out this map to see if there is a Go Topless event being organized in your community on August 25th. If you go, please make sure you act within in the limits of your state and city’s laws and wear sunblock! For my Phoenix people, there will be a Go Topless protest in Tempe starting at 10 a.m. where people will be walking down Mill Ave. sans shirts but with their areolas covered.

If you want more information about decency laws and these types of events, I talk about indecent exposure in relationship to the annual No Pants Ride in my new book Flash Mob Law: The Legal Side of Planning and Participating in Pillow Fights, No Pants Rides, and Other Shenanigans or contact a First Amendment attorney in your community.

You can connect with me on TwitterGoogle+FacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me.
You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

How To Get a Free Consultation with Ruth Carter

Photo by Don McPhee

Photo by Don McPhee

I’m excited to share that I’ve teamed up with Gangplank in Chandler to offer free legal mentoring services on the first Monday of the month from 1pm until 4pm. I can see 3 people for 45-minutes each every month at no charge.

Hello Beautiful by Gangplank HQ from Flickr

Hello Beautiful by Gangplank HQ from Flickr

My legal mentoring hours are a great opportunity to informally bat around your ideas and questions about your projects and business. Coming to my mentoring hours does not create an attorney-client relationship between us. We won’t have any ongoing obligations to each other unless we decide to create a formal working relationship.

Gangplank provides free collaborative workspaces in Arizona, Virginia, and Canada. They provide the physical and social infrastructure for creative people to launch their startups. These are wonderful places for freelancers and new business owners to work. In Arizona, Gangplank has locations on Chandler, Avondale, and Tucson.

I love working with Gangplank. They have a fantastic group of dynamic people who have an enormous amount of creativity and drive. They have a very informal environment and they do incredible work. It fits brilliantly with my desire to be the approachable lawyer who wears t-shirts.

Skulls & Stripes by Gangplank HQ from Flickr

Skulls & Stripes by Gangplank HQ from Flickr

Gangplank in Chandler is located at 260 South Arizona Avenue. Their events calendar shows their mentors’ availability and also all their other events like their weekly brown bag presentations, hacknights, and workshops. They have a wealth of other mentors too who provide assistance in the areas of business, leadership, marketing, design, finance, and technology.

Gangplank is in charge of scheduling the mentoring hours so please check their event calendar for my availability. You can book a mentoring appointment with me by emailing them at chandler@gangplankhq.com.

Please note: my mentoring hours at Gangplank are not for my ongoing clients with whom I’ve created an attorney-client relationship. These appointments are for people who think they might need a lawyer, people who just want some general legal information, law students, anyone else who wants to chat for an hour.

You can connect with me via TwitterGoogle+FacebookYouTube, and LinkedIn, or you can email me.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Is That Legal – Christmas Flash Mobs

Coventry Carolers by moonlightbulb from Flickr

Coventry Carolers by moonlightbulb from Flickr

It’s the holiday season and with it comes a usual slew of holiday inspired flash mobs. I’ve seen videos this year of groups of bell ringers standing outside stores and carolers in shopping malls. These groups seem to have the best of intentions, but that doesn’t mean that what they’re doing is permissible.

So When is a Group probably OK?
If a group is on public property (i.e. a public sidewalk or park), not obstructing a thoroughfare or blocking the public’s access to businesses, and not making so much noise that they’re disturbing the peace or violating the city’s noise ordinance, they’re probably ok. Most flash mobs don’t last very long so by the time a scrooge complains to the police, the group will have dispersed before they show up.

'Tis the Season . . . for Shopping by Vince Alongi from Flickr

‘Tis the Season . . . for Shopping by Vince Alongi from Flickr

What about Malls?
Shopping malls are private property, including open air malls. The mall is open to the public to shop; however, they get to decide what other activities get to occur at their properties. When patrons are watching a flash mob, they’re not shopping. Some owners don’t like that. I think some malls don’t want to worry about drawing the line between permissible performances and impermissible ones so they don’t allow any of them in the mall.

Scottsdale Fashion Square has put all flash mob groups on notice that flash mobs are not allowed on their property and that we’ll be arrested for trespassing if we do a flash mob there. They have real police officers on site so that is a threat they can easily carry out. A group did a dance there in 2010 and they were stopped by police and banned from the mall for a year.

What else should you know about Flash Mobs in Malls?
Every mall has a set of rules, but they can be hard to find. They might be on an obscure wall or on the mall’s website. When Improv AZ was stopped by mall cops during the Coroner Prank #2, they gave us a list of rules on cards when they banned us from the mall for 3 months. I didn’t see the rules anywhere in the mall and I couldn’t find them on their website. It might be hard to figure out what the rules are and asking for them may arouse suspicion.

There was one Christmas flash mob in a mall that turned into a safety hazard in 2010. So many people showed up to participate in the singing of Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” that there was fears that the floor would buckle. Malls also have limits on capacity set by the fire marshall that you can’t violate with your flash mob.

Some malls don’t allow videotaping, which is a common component of doing flash mobs. There’s a possibility that what you’re doing in the mall is permissible but you can’t tape it. Given that when a flash mob starts, a bunch of people are going to whip out their phones and start taping it, so the chances that a mall cop will stop you versus an unsuspecting audience member is pretty low.

Are there Copyright Issues with Singing Christmas Carols in Public?
It depends. Some holiday songs may not be in the public domain yet. A copyright holder has rights in their work, including control over where their work is performed, for 70 years after the artist dies for all works created after January 1, 1978. Fortunately, I suspect most artists would be happy that you’re promoting their work so they’re unlikely to come after you for copyright infringement even if they could.

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