Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Stop Taking Pictures of Marina City!

(Plus, a spectacular 1965 film on the construction of Bertrand Goldberg's masterpiece)

Serving on a condo board can be a thankless, high-pressure job. That's the only excuse I can think of for the declaration, equal parts loony and arrogant, of the board of the Marina Towers Condo Association:
"Because of the architectural significance of our building, the Condominium Association holds a common law copyright on the use of the Association name and building image. This means that under Federal and Illinois law, advertisers, movie makers and others cannot use the Association name or image without first obtaining express written permission from the Association . ."
Bloggers such as Marina City Online have been having a field exposing the shear stupidity of the declaration, reportedly drafted by the board's long-time attorney Ellis Levin, a long way away from his days as a progressive, independent legislator.

What kind of idiot do you have to be to actually insert the phrase "under Federal and Illinois law," when copyrights are a federal protection, and have nothing to do with state law? Then there's the inconvenient fact the condo owners only own the top 40 floors of each 60-story tower. Exactly how can they claim to own a copyright to "Marina Towers" when the first 20 stories of the towers, and the other structures of the commercial complex, are owned by someone else? And then there's the matter of exclusivity. Upon a quick Googlecheck, here are just a few of the other "Marina Towers" throughout the world.
Alexandria, Virginia
Corpus Christi, Texas
Marina del Rey, California
Oceanside, North Carolina
Beirut, Lebanon
Chennai, India
Dubai
No doubt the MTCA will soon be attempting to shake them down for royalties.

Marina City Online's Steven Dahlman deftly dissects the sloppy posturing of the board's proposal here. He has even engaged attorney Thomas D. Rosenwein, who refutes its basic legality here. Chicago Carless' Mike Doyle, redeeming himself from his support for the Chicago Children's Museum land grab in Grant Park, has also covered the topic here. And to get feel for the eclectic mix of residents at the towers, check out the MarinaWatchDog blog, which consists entirely of comment postings - some reasoned, some impassioned, some almost inscrutably strange.

As you probably already know, I am also a long term resident of Marina City. I feature numerous photos of Bertrand Goldberg's masterpiece on my website and this blog, and I guess I actually qualify as a commercial interest, as I receive regular, if pitiable, checks from Google from the ads they run there.

The proposed change to Rule Number 5 is scheduled to be voted on November 15th. So I say to Ellis and the board, pass your rule and then - please, please, please - come after me. If you're so dead set on embarrassing the building, the board, its residents, and - come to think of it - the very notion of intelligent human life, I will be a willing co-conspirator in getting your buffoonery the widest possible audience.

The Making of Marina City
On a much more positive note, an unexpected pleasure I encountered when researching this post is photographer Steven Dahlman's aforementioned Marina City Online website, co-created with real estate broker Michael Michalak. As opposed to MCTA's own almost laughably pedestrian website, Marina City Online has a wealth of useful information, including a listing of recent unit sales, maps and floorplans, and an encyclopedic history of Marina City, beautifully illustrated.

Did you know, for example, that Marina City is located on Block 1 on Chicago's original 1837 township map, or that the site was once owned by former Chicago Mayor Thomas Dyer (1856-57)? There's even a Currier and Ives lithograph showing the site and its environs circa 1892.

But perhaps the most spectacular feature of the site is a 1965, documentary, This is Marina City, produced by the Portland Cement Association. The bad news is that film has grown more than a little fuzzy with time, but the film's color images are still nothing short of breathtaking. You see the site before construction begins, surrounding by a vanished city, huge cold storage warehouses on the other side of Dearborn, surface parking at the level of the river where the IBM building is now. The film was a showpiece for the trade unions, who financed the project as a calling card for their services, just as the PCA would produce the film to promote its products.

Every phase of construction is covered - the excavation for the caissons, the complex formwork for the central cores, rising like slender reeds high into the skyline; more formwork, this time like something out of Gaudi, for the curving balconies, the painstaking pouring of the floor slabs, and views of the building at the time of its opening - the skating rink and the modern sculptures that once encircled it, the original elevator lobbies, Johnny Lattner's riverside restaurant, the gleaming glass displays cases of the first grocery store, and the office building, now the Hotel Sax, that then included the offices of Bertrand Goldberg, himself. An enthralling time capsule of a great building and its time. See it here.

27 comments:

north carolina mortgage loans said...

that's crazy! i should start charging ppl who come over my house. lol

Anonymous said...

As punishment, you will be sentenced to solitary confinement in the new CCM.

Anonymous said...

This is great! Thanks! The family of Bertarand Goldberg is still around. I wonder what they think.

Please be sure to keep us updated! Great story!

Anonymous said...

Hey, I want to do that for my building! I live in a high-rise on the Near North Side. I'll get to work on our declaration and our Condo Association can have a press conference in our lobby. I am buying a new suit to look good for the TV cameras.

No one is going to take a picture of our building without our express written permission. And we claim protection under Federal, State, County, City, Ward, and Precinct, and Block Law. See, we have a lot of laws backing us up.

After all, our high-rise was designed by the noted...uhhh, what's his name...uhhh....oh it was some guy.

Anonymous said...

actually, legally, the concept is sound--it is the same construct that the City uses in regards to reproductions of the Bean sculpture. i'm not saying its not stupid, just legally sound.

Anonymous said...

Hey Anonymous,

The argument is NOT sound - and the city back down before anyone could take them to court and prove otherwise. Basically, the "permit" required for "professionals" was wrong when it tried to copyright something in the public sphere - essentially if you can see it from a public space (this includes most privately owned plazas) you can take a picture of it - so long as you are not what amounts to a "peeping tom" - i.e. there is an expectation of privacy. Some places get around this by saying "no tripods" because they can interfere with the flow of traffic - and there is legal grounds for that, but its not based on copyright, its based on fire safety.

Photographer's rights pamphlet

Lynn Becker said...

No, actually it's not. There has been claims made for The Bean, which is a sculpture, but I do not know of a single court case successfully pursued, and the claim is not being made for the Pritzer Pavilion, which, like Marina City, is a building. If it is sound, why is it not pursued for any other building - the Empire State Building, Coit Tower, the Transamerica Tower - anywhere in the United States. If it was "sound", you can be sure Donald Trump would be suing people ven now.

Anonymous said...

Not to mention the fact that even if there WAS a copyright that prevented one from photographing the building, they've done nothing to establish that said copyright would belong to them. Copyright is granted to creators of a work, not the owners or managers of its physical embodyment. Without a signed agreement granting them EXCLUSIVE rights from the architects, that firm is free to build a dozen more just like them, something that the actual holder of the copyright could prevent.

Sat said...

"- the Empire State Building, Coit Tower, the Transamerica Tower - anywhere in the United States. If it was "sound", you can be sure Donald Trump would be suing people ven now."

Actually, the Transamerica Tower is protected. It is trademarked, though. If you watch movies with the San Francisco skyline sometimes they remove the tower.

Personally, I think the copyright and trademark laws are much abused and the idea that you would have to remove a trademark from a movie is stupid. If companies don't want their buildings, signs or logos photographed they shouldn't put them up in public or sell their products for people to use.

Anonymous said...

The association has no legal right to stop anyone from recording an image of the building. As a wise old photog once told me...if they can stop light from bouncing off of them ,then they can prevent their photo being taken. Otherwise, they're fair game.

robby staven

Lynn Becker said...

The Transamerica Tower is trademarked, not copyrighted. In another trademark case, the Rock n Roll Museum attempted to sue a photographer who used an image of the museum on posters he sold. Although the museum won initially, the ruling was reversed on appeal.
http://www.jurisnotes.com/IP/articles/trademarkblues.htm

Anonymous said...

So what the last two posters are saying is that associations lawyer has confused Trademark and Copyright. Add to that the fact that he talks about commonlaw copyright which I understand to have disappeared with the passing of the 1976 copyright act and we have the sort of paragon of legal knowlege that I would want representing me in court.

Roger Krueger said...

Any copyright claims are complete B.S., U.S. copyright law very specifically does not prohibit pictorial representations of copyrighted buildings visible from a public space. The Bean is a completely different story because it's a sculpture, not a building.

Trademark law is a lot more vague--this kind of litigation is so expensive folks mostly go along nicely with what the trademark owner says, little precedent is set. I can't think of ANY cases where a building owner actually had a court win that wasn't overturned, but they understand all too well how much power they have in the mere threat of a lawsuit.

Anonymous said...

The "Marina Towers Condominium Association" doesn't own the building. They are merely the legal entity that governs the 900 INDIVIDUALLY OWNED condominiums, along with some shared "common" space. Indeed, there is no physical entity of "Marina Towers". It is merely a descriptive of a small part of the complex known as Marina City.

Anonymous said...

I said that the concept was sound and it is. Please review http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ41.html, which states "An original design of a building embodied in any tangible medium of expression, including a building, architectural plans, or drawings, is subject to copyright protection." So, if you own copyright, you can prevent someone from distributing reproductions of the work to which you hold copyright. A photograph is not necessarily an original expression and thus is not always copyright protected (see Bridgeman vs. Corel). So, a slavish reproduction of a building that I hold copyright to might violate my IP rights.

Lynn Becker said...

Again, it is not sound. The reference you site precludes someone from building a copy, for example, of Gehry's Disney Hall. It does NOT preclude anyone from taking pictures of it from the street and doing what they will with them. If you believe the concept is sound, please show me ONE builder owner who SUCCESSFULLY sued someone from taking exterior photographs without permission or payment, and it held up through all appeals.

Anonymous said...

It is sound. True, there is no case law to support my argument. Neither is there case law to support your side of the coin. If case law is our measure, neither of us is correct. But if we look at the wording of the law itself, it states clearly that buildings are protected by copyright. Thus, unless a photographer is working under a Fair Use protection, he/she may be violating copyright, noting that copyright provides to its holder exclusive reproduction rights, if they capture it.

Lynn Becker said...

We're obviously operating under different interpretations of what constitutes "valid". To me, to say the concept is "sound" although no court has upheld it is speculative conjecture. The fact that we live in a society where corporations and other legal entities are stretching IP beyond the breaking point, and are hardly shy about milking it for all it's worth, yet apparently no one has successfully pursued a case based on photographing a building leads me to suspect that the marketplace finds it a dubious legal concept, as well.

Anonymous said...

well, that seems like a different issue. yeah, IP seems to be a tool mega-companies are using to squash artistic statements. and i can't for the life of me figure out a congressman can sponsor a bill that lengthens his copyright protection to the tune of multi-millions and not be booted out of office for a conflict of interest. in this particular issue, yeah, i think the law looks silly. but my point is and has been that the law clearly protects building via copyright and there exists the possibility of this issue someday going to court. it is legally a sound concept. and the "combatants" will probably be a "big" company/entity (trump) and a "little guy" (think blogger). and chances are that legal fight will start and end with a cease and desist letter because the little guy can't afford the legal fees (summary judgment in Federal court is minimum $350,000 I've been told). which is why there is no case law for us to turn to on this issue. and why, for my money, copyright laws continue to have a chilling effect on original expression.

Dutch101 said...

Mr. Anonymous, the concept is most decidedly not sound. While copyright does protect architecture, it only protects it from a reproduction OF THE BUILDING ITSELF (or the plans, which would be copyrighted as well) do a little research, you'll find that the copyright act specifically exempts photographs of an otherwise copyrightable building. Basically, their assertion that they have some right to control use of photographs of the building is something that any law student with a semesters worth of copyright and TM law would see through in a second.

Anonymous said...

dutch101, sorry, but this is from the Library of Congress site--"An original design of a building embodied in any tangible medium of expression, including a building, architectural plans, or drawings, is subject to copyright protection." I don't know what they mean by the word building, but I think mean building. Please, help me understand your position better by pointing me to the research that you've done that contradicts the above.

Dutch101 said...

Happy to indulge you, though I may have to charge you for that tenth of an hour.

USCA Title 17, Sec. 120(a)

(a) Pictorial Representations Permitted.— 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.

Anonymous said...

thank you, dutch101. this clearly ends my contribution to the discussion.

Lynn Becker said...

Again, from what I've been able to find, "building" refers to reproducing the building itself, not images of it.

In terms of little guys versus the Trumps, I kinda agree you. However, in this case, I think every newspaper and news outlet would have a lot to lose if this became accepted law, and would be more than willing to commit the resources to crush it.

It's interesting that Ellis Levin told the Marina board that Channel2 has already paid for using images, but when the station's manager, Joe Ahern, was asked, he said the station only paid for access to the roof deck to take pictures of the skyline, and he very pointedly added something along the lines of, "We don't pay buildings to take pictures of them."

Lynn Becker said...

and thanks for Dutch101 for giving us the chapter and verse

twestgard said...

The amendment was passed last night Here's an update with opinion.

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