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March 08, 2011

Parting Shots: Church Street Shooter Shutters His Street Photography for Good

About a year ago, I wrote this story on the unusual case of Dan Scott, a St. Albans amateur photographer who works a day job at the Burlington office of the U.S. Social Security Administration. Scott, who enjoyed taking candid photos of people in public places during his lunch hours, got into some legal hot water last year for his shutterbuggery, which made some of his subjects uncomfortable. He was subsequently issued a one-year no-trespass order by the Burlington PD, which barred him from entering dozens of businesses in downtown Burlington. Localmatters-photographer

The story, which first appeared in print on March 10, 2010, went on to become the all-time most-read story, and third most emailed story, on the Seven Days website, garnering interest from other photographers, as well as First Amendment and free-speech advocates, the world over. Other websites subsequently picked up on the story, which only fueled the debate. In the process, Scott's gritty, black-and-white stills got enormous exposure that he might not have otherwise received.

About a week ago, I received an email from Scott informing me that his one-year ban has officially expired. Sadly, Scott also told me that he no longer plans to take pictures on the streets of Burlington due to the hostility his work has invoked locally.

In fact, just days after his ban expired, Scott claims he had another run-in with a Burlington police officer for (legally) taking pictures of people on the street, as he'd done repeatedly in the past. According to Scott, the officer told him that he was "pissing people off" with his camera and that the officer didn't want him to continue shooting pictures there.

File photo: Jordan Silverman.


"Perhaps a society — even one as small as Burlington — so willing to step on the rights of others — so willing to give up their own rights when they conflict with the whim of fashionable etiquette — does not deserve a champion so willing to fight for the rights of all," Scott writes on his blog.

Love him or hate him, Scott's pictures (including this one on the right) are definitely worth a viewing. Check out Scott's parting shots — both in images and words — here.

I have a little trouble feeling that this is a tragedy. From the beginning of this story, I have pondered where HIS right to self expression through his photography stops and peoples right not to have someone take their picture without permission starts. I can honestly see both sides. I had to stop someone from using an unauthorized photo of me in their ad once, and although the owner was appalled no one had gotten my permission and resolved the matter in good faith, it left me feeling strange..I personally find his parting quote a bit arrogant. Maybe those who were offended just deserve someone asking permission to use their image for commercial gain, even if it's after the shot is taken to preserve the "candid". Maybe they are indeed interested in preserving, not giving up, their rights, such as the right to privacy.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

In case anyone forgot.

There is no right to privacy in public. Anyone is allowed to photograph you at anytime when you travel in an open society. Your image, however, cannot be used for commercial gain without your approval. Part of a vibrant democracy includes tolerating views and actions that one doesn't necessarily agree with. The thought that a police officer, while acknowledging Dan's rights, would order him not to exercise them, would be laughable if it were not so chilling.

Given that photography is not speech and that Dan is not the press, the 4th amendment would hardly apply.

Wayne, I'm unclear on your reference to the Fourth Amendment. It reads:

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

As for the FIRST Amendment, the federal courts have ruled that photography is protected speech, especially in public places, not just for members of the press but all citizens.

Arrogant is the key concept here. The debate about conflicting rights, freedom of expression and expectation of privacy is well worth having but the current circumstance turns on the particulars of this case, which is that this guy is a self-important, aggressive jerk. Taking pictures isn't the objection; taking pictures without permission isn't the objection. I do that all the time including on Church Street without making people uncomfortable. Scott believes people are there for him and treats them like they're shy exhibits at the zoo. People asking police to diplomatically discourage him is far better than what he asks for.

I don't know about all this. I do agree there is no right to privacy in a public place such as the marketplace, and that in fact gives this guy the right to take the picture. From there things get sticky. By posting them on the internet, one could argue that the while there is no expectation of privacy to those on Church st, there is an expectation that they won't be exposed to the entire world. Moreover, does he get paid from it anyway, internet ads? Sell the photographs? If so that would be illegal, if not then it is just fricking creepy.

JCarter, it is not illegal to sell photographs or make money from ads on the internet.

You know, there have to be a hundred cameras on Church street on the ATMs and security cameras but nobody complains about those. I hate that some people jump immediately to impugning Dan's character. Dan is neither self-important, nor a jerk. I have know him for going on thirty years and in all that time his character has been beyond reproach. He is, however, very intelligent and not easily intimidated, perhaps that is the problem. Or perhaps the problem is that he is a man. Since this thing started I've held that if he were a pretty young woman no one would bat an eyelash at his street photography. Asking police to diplomatically discourage someone from practicing free speech is called Tyranny people. When the police can badger away the rights of a citizenry from taking photographs on a public street the society is no longer free. Plus Dan's photographs aren't half bad even if his subject matter can get a little bleak. So for those who want to accuse Dan of being a creeper and therefore feel justified in banning his rights to free speech (and calling him names and maligning his character), please reconsider the case as it were a pretty young lady photographer the police were intimidating - not an intelligent, well spoken man who can speak up for himself. Or, say, just a regular guy without the distasteful adjectives you seem to immediately want to throw out there.
If you have the open-mindedness to reconsider the situation with a different protagonist, do you have different feelings about protecting those rights?

Oh & he doesn't sell the photos, not that it should matter - maybe someday he'll have a show in a gallery and be lauded. Posting pictures to a flickr gallery is technically posting them on the internet but I fail to see how it has the creepy overtones people try to imply. He posts them to the *internet*? Well, sure. Don't a lot of us put our pictures on our facebook page, for example? To share with all our stranger farmville friends? :-)

Well... this just might be a case of 'Just because I can doesn't mean I should'. As a photographer myself, I still feel a personal responsibility of respect toward others. I believe that if others are uncomfortable with having their picture taken, then I have some responsibility to respect their wishes or beliefs. Where I live and commonly photograph, people are generally quite happy having their picture taken, and many are happier if they appear in the papers. Where someone is less comfortable, or unhappy with that, then I back off. It's not just about rights in our society; it's also about parallel responsibility to exercise those rights respectfully.


I believe making money of a persons image without their consent is illegal. If I'm wrong I apologize.

@ Caitlin, I hope you see the difference between sitting on a bench on Church knowing you are in a public space and having someone put your picture up on the WWW where it will remain for ever and ever without your consent. What if it is a picture of you picking your nose or scratching your ass. You might be a little steamed about it and rightfully so.

@JCarter, If you don't want the public to see you scratch your ass, don't scratch your ass in public...

@JCarter illegal to profit off someone's pictures? Ever heard of Paparazzi? While I would be annoyed if someone caught me in an unattractive pose, that doesn't mean that they don't have the right to do it, or that I should get the police to harass them bc I was scratching my ass in public. Do you suppose that if Britney Spears had any legal recourse against having her naked bits postered all across the internet she wouldn't have done something about it? Google earth is taking satellite pictures of all of us 24/7 from a lot closer vantage points than we get to see, shouldn't that concern you more than a photographer you can see and avoid?

"some people jump immediately to impugning Dan's character… his character has been beyond reproach"
Some people don't find his character beyond reproach. The fact that you aren't among them doesn't mean all those who've felt he richly deserves reproach are jumping to conclusions; it may only mean that he hasn't treated you the way he treats them. But of course he wouldn't.

Let's stop claiming candid portraiture is speech or that this has anything remotely to do with speech. The dissemination of photographs is arguably speech and protected. There's a difference in that ideas have no intrinsic rights while people do have rights to recognizable images of themselves. But the objection isn't to display of or profit from photographs, it's to his behavior taking them. If an ATM security camera or a woman, or a "regular guy", followed people around acting all paparazzo, yes, people would complain about that as well. If he took people for granted with no CF card in his camera, the complaints would be the same. Free speech is not under threat; public obnoxiousness is.

Let me suggest, again, that in this particular case the police are not oppressing Scott as much as protecting him. Arrest and incarceration for having broken a law is only one legitimate police function; another is advising against behavior likely to result in breaking a law. (Assuming there's a law against making someone eat his camera.) Security cameras and "regular guys" know better than to disrespect and harass people on Church Street. This… person is apparently too intelligent and well spoken to get that. He's not a champion of photographer 1st amendment rights, he's a champion of carte blanche rights for any clown with a camera. That cause apparently resonates with people who infer from a right to express themselves a right to use the rest of us to express themselves. I beg to differ.

@Another Vermonter If you have taken issue with the way Dan has personally taken your picture on Church street, than I cannot argue with your right to complain of his manner, appearance, obnoxiousness etc, as long as your complaints at his (perceived or actual) obnoxiousness do not escalate to having him stopped by police. Or banned from Church street. I would disagree with that only. Because any clown with a camera *has* the right to take pictures as obnoxiously as they want, on the street.

However, I get the sense a lot of times that the people jumping to call him names or calling him expletives have *not* personally had any interaction. That's the part that I find almost as offensive as the misinformed rants that people have a right to privacy on the street. The implication that after the however obnoxious & rude photo has been snapped, something nefarious will then be done with it.

So I guess I can see how having your picture taken against your will can be annoying, and someone who does that can be considered rude and obnoxious. But that very behavior is protected free speech. So I guess what I'm trying to get out there is that Dan is not a pervert. Maybe he pisses people off because he takes their picture after they've asked him not to and that can be seen as annoying and obnoxious. But since he's allowed to do that, and doing it is a protected activity, maybe those that are annoyed can just walk away or flip him off or whatever and not try to justify how getting the police involved is a good thing.

Photography is stale anyway.


Celebrities are different from a legal standpoint. They by choice put themselves within the public domain, that is why paparazzi get away with it.

@ CaptainObvious,

How did you miss the fact that my example was hypothetical Question CaptainObvious ???

may want to change your name.

" Maybe he pisses people off because he takes their picture after they've asked him not to and that can be seen as annoying and obnoxious."

Seen as annoying and obnoxious? It can be seen as harassment and threatening and worthy of an asswhipping.

Freedom of expression does not protect you from being a jerk. You can freely express yourself until it reaches the point where you are interfering with other peoples rights.

BTW, Dan was not banned from church street, he was banned from taking pictures and harassing people in church street.

@JCarter you are misinformed. Dan was banned from entering all Establishments on Church street for one year. (which he was not inside while taking photographs.)

He was NOT banned from taking pictures or harassing people on Church street as that is not possible to do, he was not breaking any laws. Or interfering with anyone's rights since, again, there is no right to not have your photo taken on a public street.

Celebrities are often not celebrities by choice, anybody who gets famous for any reason can suddenly be a paparazzi target.

BTW please do not disseminate incorrect information, everything on the internet before you posted was 100% true. :-)

A Caitlan, which part of my post wasn't true.

You said he was banned from CHurch Street. If he was banned from the establishments that is different then being banned from the street. That is false.

You cited paparazzi and celebrities as your reasoning behind it's ok to make money of other peoples images. That is also false. As it is a different legal beast.

I suggest you take some of your own words of advice and stop disseminating false information.

Frankly, I don't know him, or his story. I do know if someone were to take a picture of me and be a jerk about it then he better be wearing his running shoes... hypothetically speaking.


he wasn't banned from taking pictures on church street, yes that was misstated.

But, here's the part that is confusing... What is he crying about? He go to Church St, he can take pictures. He got banned from going into privately owned shops and taking pictures. That's not a freedom of expression thing at all. That's a don't like it stay outta my store type thing.

JCarter, you have absolutely no idea what you're talking about. Maybe take ten minutes and stop commenting and do a little research.

Very sad. Now there only be me. and JCARTER, I suggest that you should heed AC. Think about how uninformed you are, a sad fact that could affect how you analyze a situation and what your opinions are.


Also, all you people complaining about what an obnoxious jerk Scott is, check this out about the Westboro Baptist Church:

Huh. The Supreme Court ruled it's legal to do that? I would quit complaining about photographers who take your picture without asking, but stop as soon you express your disscomfort, and start caring about things that actually matter. Get active about factory farming, global warming, genocide, species extinction, etc..

@ Natalie:

Thank you for reminding us about what "actually matters," and what we can and cannot care about. And talk about.

You must be really popular at the dinnertable when you tell your family to stop whining about all those stupid and unimportant things like Dad's birthday, and the weather, and how Frannie is doing in school, and what the dog did today, and who cousin David married, etc., BECAUSE THERE ARE MORE IMPORTANT THINGS TO TALK ABOUT LIKE GENOCIDE.

I think we're still allowed to talk about whether a guy with a camera on Church Street is or is not a harasser and a jerk, if that's alright with you?

After all, in case you hadn't noticed, this IS a thread about a guy with a camera on Church Street.

Now, yes, I do realize this is Burlington, and we are therefore required BY LAW to discuss, at least once a day, with righteous indignation, all of the following: the Westboro Baptist Church/factory farming/global warming/genocide/species extinction/PETA/veganism/fair trade/racism/anti-NAFTA/single-payer/genetically-modified seeds/anti-war/death-with-dignity/dredlocks/anti-nuke/raw milk/Iraq/renewable energy/legalizing marijuana/wiccanism/spirituality/emotional intelligence/multi-national corporations/FOX News/world music/oppression/IRV voting/economic justice/right wing reactionaries/carbon footprints.

But can't we talk for a minute just about the guy with the camera? Pretty please?

The factory farming/global warming/genocide/species extinction thread will be back tomorrow (and every other day in Burlington), ok?

It is settled case law in the United States that anyone may photograph whatever they like on public property, this includes people as subjects of the photograph, with no need for consent.

It is also settled settled case law in the United States that those photographs may be displayed or sold, again without consent of any people in the photographs.

Such photographs may also be used by news publications etc. (also confirmed in court cases)

It is generally accepted that such photographs my not be used for commercial purposes (i.e. advertising). As I understand it, this is not because of the subjects image per se. but rather the false implication that the subject is endorsing the advertising.

You do not have to like the above, but it is the law. Unless we change the constitution it will remain the law.

The police stopping one law-abiding citizen from doing something they are legally entitled to do scares me much more than than any of the concerns people have raised about street photography.


You know nothing about what you talk about. Maybe do a little research before posting.

Doesn't really care a lot of weight huh. On the other hand if you actually shared what it is you disagree with and provide some citations it might. Until then post your drivel and the rest of us will just take it that you are Supreme Court Justice and all knowing.

The same applies to Duckshots. Do you guys realize that by simply stating someone is uninformed without providing any other material other then you are uninformed just makes you look as uninformed, as ignorant, and even more of a jerk then me?

All I have said is to the best of my knowledge you may not take a picture and make money off it without the owners consent. THAT IS TO THE BEST OF MY KNOWLEDGE. If you have other information then SHARE IT.

But from the case law I have read it is not entirely cut and dry.

"an image of an individual cannot be displayed at any time or at any place without his consent" (Pavesich v. New England Life Ins. Co., 50 S.E. 68 (1905)).

"whether the victim possesses a reasonable expectation of privacy that can exist regardless of whether that person is in a public or private place." 18 U.S.C. Section 1801 (2004))

Campbell v. MGN Ltd.140

Did Scott break the law, it depends on several factors and ultimately how a jury would hear it.

A.) He can't photograph in a private place, the coffee shop that ultimately started the mess. So the question becomes is the outside area part of the shop or not.

B.) what constitutes reasonable expectation of privacy? There is a difference between expectation in a crowd of a few hundred people on Church and 100's of millions on the internet.

C.) is it commercial? Newsworthy (the exception allowing paparazzi to do what they do) or incidental.

I don't think Scott taking a picture of Joe Smoe walking up the street is illegal and if I gave that impression, my bad. Putting it on the internet is creepy, and is sketchy under privacy laws.

Well, I've taken photos of people, just in taking photos of places, but I'd never point the camera at a stranger from a few feet away, or ten feet away, or even twenty feet away. It's annoying - it's where your right to capture an image ends and your intimidation of a stranger begins. Give this fellow a telephoto lens! I agree with both sides, in a way. But I'm from NYC, where you might get away with it forever, someone might grab your camera, or you might get a punch in the nose. It's all free.

When I read the first story, I was sympathetic towards the photographer because I enjoy taking pictures and want to be able to express myself. Sometime between that article and this one, I think I ran into him at least once. Now, I definitely don't mind people taking pictures from a distance, which is what I thought the guy was doing when I read the first article. however, this guy GOT RIGHT UP IN MY FACE! And he didn't even ask my permission, either, just Snap! I wasn't very nice about it. Personally, I think it violates the rights of the people who are being photographed that the guy didn't even ask. When one person's rights gets in the way of another person's rights is when you have trouble and need to tread carefully. At least, that's what I believe.

Fascinating hypothetics but what are we actually talking about? Scott was banned from entering stores on Church Street for a year, by the store owners, because he followed people when they sought refuge inside, sticking his camera in their faces and clicking away. The disinvitation to enter commercial establishments was served by police (after Scott indignantly refused to act like a civilized human being) but it wasn't a police action; he was not arrested or charged. Only commenters here think this has anything to do with law, speech, art, intrusion or permission. Only commenters here think it has anything to do with his rights. It has to do with how best to respond to chronic obnoxiousness. Think of him as a muttering lunatic pissing down his pantleg and following people at random trying to engage them in conversation. He cares nothing about them, in his fantasy they're just figments of his imagination existing to be engaged in conversation, or in this case captured on film. How best to deal with someone so persistently rude? You try to talk him down, wait for him to go somewhere else, or sober up; this clown was relentless. Banning him from entering stores for a year was the gentlest possible next step. We can't let oblivious people do whatever they want, whether they're demented, intoxicated or artistic. It doesn't matter if they have a legal right to do it; we have a legal right not to be held hostage to it. Streetcorner preaching is protected but we have a right to walk away; collecting petition signatures is protected but we have a right to decline; taking pictures is protected but we have a right to escape. The point of the ban was to give his victims an avenue of escape (indoors) because Scott proved impervious to any and all efforts to educate him to the niceties of candid photography, which generally starts with not making the subject preoccupied with you (much less furious with you or afraid of you). Perhaps there was also the motive of waking him to the narcissistic, antisocial nature of his actions, but that was a vain hope.

How to make this plain? His rights were never in question or infringed in any way. He was never beaten, arrested or forbidden to do anything except enter private property where he had demonstrated his willingness to pursue and harass people. Several informal attempts to explain that acting like an ass has consequences fell on deaf ears. He, like some here, can't seem to grasp that doing something sanctioned does not sanction using other people as we see fit while doing it. The issue was never photographing people or displaying photographs of people, it was treating people like prey, being the sort of prick you don't want anywhere near you. It was always and only about his being a self-important, aggressive prick. Which isn't illegal and wasn't prosecuted, but it is intolerable and was discouraged. It was discouraged because it needs to be discouraged. There's no constitutional right to stalk or harass people, camera or no camera. A right to record people's lives does not confer a right to take over their lives. Any talk about constitutional rights, chilling effect or unpopular ideas is completely irrelevant in this case. The guy is insufferable and needs to learn some manners or stay home.

A very nice write up "Another_Vermonter." Compelling but not factually supported. Nowhere in any of the Seven Days coverage (this year or last) does it say that Mr. Scott took photos on private property. In fact, it says just the opposite. It says he kept his surreptitious photography to public property. The ban, if you have forgotten, is a reciprocating sort of device. It only takes one business on Church St. to get a person banned from all the participating stores.

The coffee shop that insisted on the ban was Uncommon Grounds. In the original Seven Day's article the coffee shop manager specifically says that Scott didn’t enter the coffeehouse to take pictures.

You, however, state that he was banned because "he followed people when they sought refuge inside, sticking his camera in their faces and clicking away."

Now, I should think that the manager of the store that called for the ban might have mentioned this to Seven Days if it were the case. Looks like you are either flat out wrong or Seven Days didn't get the story right. It's my guess that you are flat out wrong. Let me tell you why using your own words.

You also say, "There's no constitutional right to stalk or harass people, camera or no camera." Here you are 100 percent right. Stocking people is not protected by the constitution and it's also illegal. Do you think, for one minute, that if Mr. Scott was stocking folks on Church St that the police wouldn't arrest him or, at the very least, issue a restraining order. We know they went to visit him at his place of work and that they've stopped him on the street, we also know that the Burlington PD have surveillance cameras on Church St. I should think, that if he were stocking or harassing people, they would have found some actionable infraction to charge him with. But, they didn't.

So, what does that leave us with. Ah, his unsavory behavior. If it's just his behavior that's objectionable then, too bad. I mean, I don't like it when I get stuck behind a guy turning left out of a gas station on Williston Rd. Obviously, the dude is being rude and inconsiderate, he should just go right and flow with the traffic. But, I don't insist he gets banned from all the service stations on the street, I don't even honk my horn - though I do swear at him under my breath. You should try it, works well with bosses too.

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