Barnes & Noble doesn’t allow pictures in the store. They blame copyright for the decision. Recently I went to a Barnes & Noble to pick up some books. There was a full display of books that “everyone should read”, including books that are widely taught in school. Since I’ve been interested in books that I never got a chance to read in school, I decided to pick up some books and to take a snapshot of the display. As I did so, however, an employee came over and told me no photography was allowed. At first, I thought he was joking, but upon realizing he was serious, asked why. The employee claimed it was store policy and that it was because the books were covered by copyright.
At the cafe, while a girl was poring over her books, just as she picked up her phone so that the phone was directly over the pages, another employee walked over to her and told her no photography was allowed. She wasn’t attempting to take pictures of the books, and the books were hers! I couldn’t believe what I was told and what I saw. It is as if Barnes & Noble has hired secret police to patrol the store in order to make sure no one is taking picture of any printed materials.
I think this copyright argument is specious. Barnes & Noble itself is not copyright holder, so it cannot take action. I actually don’t think this argument is all that compelling, really. B&N, as a private actor, certainly has the right to agree with a copyright holder that it will block photographs of their books or to decide, just as a private store, to block photography. Still, it appears the reason is somewhat misleading, and my later calls to B&N confirmed that they consider this a copyright issue.
But, really, this has nothing whatsoever to do with the legal arguments one way or the other. As happens so often in copyright issues, it’s about the common sense situation, and the fact that blocking photographs in the store makes no common sense. Basically, B&N is barring attempts by people to promote the in-store display for free, and that’s silly. Stopping word of mouth marketing is a bad idea. How often to you promote through word of the mouth? It’s how the culture works. But B&N decides that it’s copyright infringement, even though all we are doing is taking snapshots of the display of books and not the inside of the books page by page. Not only do they wrench communication, B&N also render their stores very unfriendly for customers to browse.