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Barnes & Noble Forbids Photography

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.


8 Responses

  1. This must be a somewhat new policy as it seems like a year or so ago, I was snapping away at our B&N. I often take photos of books I want to buy or read at some point. very odd indeed.

  2. I agree- it’s very unfriendly and sends out negative energy. I’m encountering this “no photos” policy more and more. Now they do it at craft shows and antique shows. At one I just wanted to share a find with a friend who wasn’t at the show, the other was an item I thought my son-in-law might like to purchase but he was in another area of the very large event. It’s getting ridiculous!

  3. This has got to be the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. So…does that mean I can’t take a screen shot of their website that features books? It makes no sense.

  4. I took a picture there today, of two book covers, then I posted it to FB to see if anyone had read them. Apparently, I was being a rebel.

  5. At my local B&N I take pictures of books and displays all the time and no one has ever said anything to me. Hmm. Or maybe it happens to others and I’m just sneakier than I thought. 😛

    Anyway, I completely agree with what you talk about here. The company doesn’t realize that in instances like this they’re getting free promotion, especially if the person taking the photos will be using them as a blogger or booktuber, and those photos will be used with B&N purchase links. That aside, they can’t really say anything to you if you’re taking photos of books YOU bought. And in instances of copyright, I thought you can use quotes, pictures, etc in instances of informational or educational purposes if you don’t claim them as yours or make profit off of them.

    I love B&N as a place where I buy most of my books, but they do make some really poor choices as a company, which I’m scared will spell doom for them in the end.

    Some people just need to use common sense and back off. Sheesh.

  6. Hmm Interesting. I was just in my local B&N and snapped a few pictures of books I want to read and an employee passing by didn’t stop me or reprimand me. A bit mind boggling. Maybe they’re trying this new policy out. It doesn’t make sense as you said B&N doesn’t not hold the copywrite to the book covers, so they can’t be held liable.

  7. Seems like a ridiculous policy on the part of B&N. I guess they are following the letter of the law but throwing common sense out the window.

  8. First, this is crazy. I agree with sandynawrot about taking a screenshot of their website; what would be the difference. Second, I thought I was the only crazy one who took pictures of books in the bookstore. I’m glad others do it to. 😉

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