Legal Side of the No Pants Subway Ride

No Pants Light Rail Ride 2014 - photo by Devon Christopher Adams (Used with permission)

No Pants Light Rail Ride 2014 – photo by Devon Christopher Adams (Used with permission)

Charlie Todd and Improv Everywhere announced the cities that are participating in the 8th Annual Global No Pants Subway Ride (15th ride in New York, 8th ride with global participation). On Sunday, January 10th, people all over the world will be riding their public transit sans pants, and acting as if nothing is out of the ordinary. Phoenix has participated every year with the No Pants Light Rail Ride, organized by Improv AZ.

The No Pants Ride was my first flash mob and the event that launched my interest in flash mob law. Whenever I tell people about this event, one of the common questions I hear is, “Is that legal?” Given that this is a global event, the organizers and participants in each city should review their local laws related to this event and act accordingly. I’m sure it is not fun to be arrested when one is not wearing pants.

Indecent Exposure
Each city/state has its own laws regarding indecent exposure. In Phoenix, we don’t have to worry in general because it is not uncommon for people’s underpants to be bigger than what many people wear to the beach or pool. To violate the Arizona decency law, you have to expose your genitals, anus, or female areolas. This is why Improv AZ advises participants not to wear see-through fabric and to wear briefs under boxer in case the fly separates. Additionally, organizers in multiple cities have a “no thongs” rule. (Remember, you’re on public transportation. Do you really want your skin touching those seats?)

Transit System Rule Violations
Given that participants are expected to act as if nothing is abnormal, following the rules of the transit system is expected. Be courteous and don’t interfere with others’ ability to ride the subway, light rail, or bus. And the fact that your outfit doesn’t have pockets does not absolve you from the requirement to purchase a ticket.

Disorderly Conduct, Public Nuisance, Riot
Many cities have a broadly written catch-all for behaviors that may disturb the peace. If you’re going to organize or participate in a No Pants Ride or other flash mob, always apply common sense to your shenanigans. If you encounter law enforcement, be calm and respectful, and know what information you are required to provide. In the U.S., the police are allowed to briefly detain you if they suspect a crime is occurring or is imminent. And although you have the right to remain silent, you may be required to identify yourself if requested.

Of course, the goal of any flash mob is to surprise and entertain an unsuspecting audience. Ideally, the police should never have to be involved. They have real crimes to investigate. It’s up to the organizers and participants to educate themselves on how to pull off their shenanigans without violating the law or anyone’s rights.

I’m excited for this year’s No Pants Subway Ride. If one is occurring near you, I highly recommend you participate. If you want to chat about the legalities of flash mobs and pranks, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn.

Arizona Drone Law Basics

Drone and Mood by Don McCullough from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Drone and Mood by Don McCullough from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

There has been a lot of controversy and questions around unmanned aerial vehicles – aka drones. According to Amazon, you can get one for under $100 and they look really cool. If you equip a drone with a camera, the potential footage is amazing. Improv Everywhere used one this year to shoot part of Black Tie Beach 2014. Apparently there’s a way to attach a beacon to yourself and have your drone follow you, which could make for amazing footage if you’re involved in a hobby like surfing or rock climbing.

I’ve been getting questions about the legalities of having a drone in Arizona. So I did some research and here’s what I’ve learned so far:

Arizona does not have any drone-specific laws at this time. You can legally fly a drone, with or without a camera, Arizona; however, there are some guidelines about that. You have to keep it under 400 feet and you can’t fly it within five miles of an airport without permission.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) prohibits the use the drones for commercial purposes. That means you can’t make money from your drone. You can’t sell services that include using a drone – like a video production company or a realtor who wants to use a drone to shoot footage of properties that are for sale. It also means you can’t run ads on the videos you shoot with your drone and post on YouTube. I have friend at Fox 10 Phoenix and he said the station has a drone but they don’t use it because they make money by sharing videos of newsworthy stories.

If you injure a person or their property with your drone, you will be responsible for paying for the damages. This is same rule that applies if you’re playing catching with a friend and you accidentally hit your neighbor with your ball or throw it through their living room window.

There have been discussions about whether the City of Phoenix will create city ordinances around drones. I think drones should be dealt with at the state level, not the city, especially a metropolitan area like Phoenix where there’s not space between where one city end and the next begins.

One of the challenges that I expect will emerge related to drones is related to the fact that it’s not always easy to tell who is operating a particular drone. Unlike remote-control aircrafts, you don’t need line of sight to operate a drone. If someone violates the FAA rules or any law with a drone, it may be difficult to identify the operator.

This is an emerging area of law that I will keep an eye on. The FAA’s rules regarding hobbyists’ use of drones are expected to be released in 2015. You can learn more about the FAA’s guidelines for drones here.

Fellow Phoenix attorney and overall nice guy James Arrowood is also following developments in drone law. He did a fantastic interview on PBS about this topic recently.

If you want to chat more about this topic, 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.

Flash Mobs Are Not Crimes

Improv AZ Apple Mob by Devon Christopher Adams

Improv AZ Apple Mob by Devon Christopher Adams

This post was originally published on The Undeniable Ruth in August 2011. 

It appears the term “flash mob” is being used inappropriately and its meaning is being overly broadened to include any group activity that is coordinated using social media. This year, there have been several robberies and assaults perpetrated by a group of people that appear (at least on the surface) to have been orchestrated via social media sites. The media has called them “flash mob crimes.” They make it sound like someone created a Facebook event that said, “Meet at Broadway and Main at 10pm. At exactly 10:03, we’re all going to run into the minimart, grab whatever we want, and run out.” That’s not a flash mob. That’s solicitation and possibly conspiracy. If the event actually occurs, it’s larceny and perhaps inciting a riot.

flash mob is defined as “a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and sometimes seemingly pointless act for a brief time, then disperse, often for the purposes of entertainment and/or satire.” Flash mobs have been occurring at least since the 1970’s. In recent years, they have been orchestrated via email and social media websites; however, that does not mean that every public group activity that is coordinated via social media is a flash mob.

Where's Waldo Flash Mob by Jeff Moriarty

Where's Waldo Flash Mob by Jeff Moriarty

Flash mobs are generally light-hearted innocuous fun.  People who participate in flash mobs ride public transportation without their pants; they welcome back strangers at the airport; they have fake battles between heroes and villains; and they stand frozen in place for short periods of time. Some protests and promotional events are referred to as “flash mobs,” but technically they’re not. And any event that has a criminal intent is definitely not a flash mob.

I give the media some leeway when it comes to coining terms; however, I was deeply disturbed when I saw a legal website refer to flash mobs as including criminal behavior. It suggests the writer did not do their research on this topic.

I love flash mobs. I have been participating in them and organizing them since 2009. When Improv AZ organizes a flash mob, we do thorough research on the potential legal implications of our event. I have attended an event with pages of statutes in my back pocket to ensure that we’re acting within the confines of the law. We are diligent to inform our participants in advance of their do’s and don’ts. We may push the envelope, but we never intend to cross the line. Most of our encounters with police involve them smiling or laughing at us. At the 2010 No Pants Ride after party, a Tempe police car stopped near us and an officer yelled out, “We had a briefing about you!” And then he went about his merry way, knowing we were harmless. A bit odd and rather goofy, but harmless.

Flash mobs are harmless, playful, and unexpected events. They are not criminal acts by design. Flash mobs and crimes are two completely different phenomena.  They do not exist on the same continuum.

In other news, the flash mob community needs to send a big “thank you” to Mayor Jackson and the city of Cleveland. Mayor Jackson recently vetoed a proposed law that would have made it illegal to use social media to coordinate a flash mob.  Thank you for protecting our First Amendment rights!