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.

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.

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.

Is That Legal – The Zombathalon

Zombathalon - Zombies shamble forth! by Moriartys from Flickr

Zombathalon – Zombies shamble forth! by Moriartys from Flickr

Around Halloween there are a lot of organized zombie walks and zombie races, but we wanted to see what would happen if we created a zombie outbreak in an unexpected location.

Zombathalon - Zombie Outbreak Warning! by Moriartys from Flickr

Zombathalon – Zombie Outbreak Warning! by Moriartys from Flickr

Improv AZ organized a group of 13 zombies that invaded the Arizona Canal, a popular running/walking/biking path in Phoenix over the weekend. For about 30 minutes we stumbled and groaned up and down a section of the canal while covered in fake blood, ripped clothes, and with pasty white makeup covering our skin. We warned people that they were coming upon a gaggle of zombies by posting yellow signs covered in fake blood that said, “Warning: Zombie Outbreak.”

We had an awesome time entertaining, surprising, and scaring our unsuspecting audience, but was it legal?

Did We Commit Trespassing?
No. It was a public path. Everyone’s welcome to use it.

Did We Commit Assault?
No. Assault requires intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causing a physical injury or putting someone in reasonable fear of physical injury. Most of the time we were moving too slowly to get close enough to anyone to even touch them. I doubt anyone thought we were trying to injure anyone. I think they figured out that it was all in good fun.

The only time we had physical contact with any runners was when they initiated contact with us with high fives, fist bumps, and one person jokingly threw water at one of us.

What About Intimidation? Unlawful Imprisonment?
No. That would require us threatening to cause physical injury, serious damage to property, or serious public inconvenience. Public inconvenience is things like forcing the evacuation of a building. Putting people in a situation where they have to run around us – an extra 5 steps to their run – hardly counts as a public inconvenience. Imprisonment requires restraining a person. We may have been in the way, temporarily, but we didn’t prohibit anyone from moving down the path.

It’s probably not a public inconvenience if the people are laughing about it while they’re doing it.

We did this flash mob to entertain our unsuspecting audience and everyone seemed to have a good time. We had a lot of people laugh and make jokes when they saw us.

We had to be more careful than zombies in an organized zombie race because at those events the racers know they will be navigating a course where there are zombies who try to attack them. They know and consent in advance to being approached and touched by those zombies so there’s little risk that those zombies will be accused of wrongdoing either.

You can check out the video from The Zombathalon here.

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

Police Arrest Would-Be Prankster for Conspiracy

Jumping Jacks by Flabber DeGasky

Jumping Jacks by Flabber DeGasky

I recently read a news story out of Buffalo, NY about a 17 year-old being charged for conspiracy, criminal nuisance, and disorderly conduct for posting an event on Facebook that invited people to assemble at the Millennium Hotel in Cheektowaga, NY. The reporter called the planned event a “flash mob,” but given that the article said that organizer’s “intent was to cause damage and create chaos,” I doubt that this was a plan constituted a real flash mob. It sounds like an invitation to commit a crime such as disorderly conduct or rioting. I could not find the event on Facebook, so I can’t say for certain what the planned activity was.

Either way the lesson is the same: If you plan an event which involves a crime, you’re asking to be charged with conspiracy and solicitation. Even if you only meant to do something fun, you could still be charged. Even if you cancel the event and nothing bad happens, you could still be charged. Let’s look at what it takes to get charged with each crime.

Conspiracy
In Arizona, you need three things to be commit conspiracy:

  1. Two or more people,
  2. A plan between them that involves committing a crime, and
  3. One overt action in furtherance of that crime, even if that act is not a crime.

So if you and your friend planned to kill someone and one of you bought a shovel to bury the body, you could be charged with conspiracy. Likewise, if your plan was more innocent, like planning a pillow fight where the rules say you can hit anyone in the vicinity with your pillow whether they have a pillow or not and you buy a new pillow for the event, that could also be conspiracy.

Solicitation
It’s also very easy to commit solicitation in Arizona. All you have to do is ask or encourage someone to commit a crime. Even if the person declines the invitation, it’s still solicitation. Asking someone to kill your spouse, regardless of their answer, is solicitation. Likewise, inviting people to participate in a prank that involves touching people in any way without their consent might be solicitation to commit assault. Putting up a Facebook event and making it public could be enough for a solicitation charge.

These types of crimes are easy to commit, especially if you don’t realize that what you’re planning to do is illegal. Your ignorance of the law will generally not protect you from the consequences of your actions. It’s because of this that it’s imperative that you contact a flash mob attorney (like me) when you are beginning to plan your event. Even if the illegality of your event is brought to your attention and you cancel it before anything bad happens, you could still face serious criminal charges.

If you want to know more about committing conspiracy and solicitation by planning a flash mob, I made a video about it. You can also view it here.

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