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Do theme parks want visitors to post photos and video online?

By Robert Niles
Published: January 19, 2010 at 1:19 PM
Travel writer Christopher Elliott earlier today tweeted a link to a story that raised fears that theme parks might sue visitors who posted photos or videos of their trips online.

As it turns out, corporate lawyers for theme parks have every right to come down on you like a ton of bricks for posting videos of their client's lucrative creations, including banjo-playing bears or live versions of Beauty and the Beast. Indeed, you could theoretically get sued for posting a video of your daughter's first ride on Peter Pan's Flight and sharing it with everyone you know.

"In instances when uploaded video violates our intellectual property rights we have options to protect it," said a spokesperson for Disney Parks when asked about the company's policy on video sharing.

The author of the story tried to pin down spokespersons from Disney and other theme park chains on exactly when they would go after someone for posting park video online, but couldn't get an answer.

Here's why: Because there's no way a theme park is going to sue a paying customer for promoting its product.

Roller coaster tracks
Promoting Busch Gardens' roller coasters

Yeah, the fine print on ticket media says that you can't take pictures and video for commercial purposes. And parks' contracts with owners of various characters and movie franchises limit their ability to use images of those characters and scenes in promotional material. So, when asked in an official capacity, park spokespeople have to toe the corporate line about how they have the right to keep someone from posting certain material online.

But talk to these folks privately, and I have (with reps from every chain out there), and they all say the same thing: They absolutely love viral promotion from their guests. SeaWorld has built its websites around photos from its visitors. Many parks are now offering visitors the option of uploading coaster videos directly to YouTube.

This isn't to say that online video and photos don't concern park management. But the folks who run theme parks are more worried about what you are doing when you shoot video or photos than where you post them after you leave the park. When paparazzi have overrun Disneyland in the past, the park has issued blanket bans on guests bringing "professional" quality cameras into the park. (In practice, this means long lenses and tri- or monopods.) Sure, Disney loves the publicity of having photos from Disneyland in the tabs. But it doesn't like photographers harassing, blocking or endangering its other paying customers. That's the reason for the occasional crack-downs.

Nor do parks want photographers endangering themselves or others. That's led to the biggest dilemma for theme parks: How to respond to visitors' online POV [point of view] roller coaster videos. This is the one subject in this area that park reps don't like talking about even off the record. Every park I know of bans the use of recording equipment on high-speed rides, including roller coasters. But I've also yet to see any park send cease-and-desist letters to websites which host and encourage reader POV videos. (For the record, Theme Park Insider does not embed video taken in violation of parks' safety policies.)

Smart parks, such as Cedar Point and Holiday World, are feeding viewers' demand for POV video by creating their own YouTube channels with park-produced POV (filmed with cameras securely attached to coaster trains). You'll find those ride videos embedded on Theme Park Insider attraction listing pages for those parks.

Perhaps if someone got hurt by a visitor's camera on a roller coaster, that might inspire a crackdown against guest video. (Especially if the owner of the camera used the plethora of online POV as a defense - proof of parks' acceptance of the practice.) But that hasn't happened to date.

The only time a theme park is going to try to shut down a video is if it violates the park's copyright or safety rules and portrays the park in a negative light. Remember the video from the Xcelerator accident at Knott's last summer? That went away quickly.

But videos of Peter Pan or Small World in normal operation? Please. Why scare readers by even raising the possibility?

Readers' Opinions

From Sylvain Comeau on January 19, 2010 at 2:04 PM
Yeah, there's a difference between official policy and what they do in actual practice. All those ride and park pics and videos out there are worth countless millions of dollars in free publicity; Disney et. al. would have to be insane to try to stop it.
From Anthony Murphy on January 19, 2010 at 4:40 PM
Good story,


I have found that for the most part, parks really don't care that much. I have had a video of the Under the Sea number from Voyage of the Little Mermaid for the last two years with nothing happening.

One of my favorite youtube-rs out there is Bribery, a Disneyland Cast Member on the Storybook Boats. When not being a cast member, she stalks many of the characters and has ongoing discussions with them. They are actually very entertaining and show the talents of some of the actors. She has had a couple of ride videos too. I have yet to see any yanked videos. So check out Bribery!

I think you start getting in murky waters with the shows because of the talent and music. One example I can think of is the Flower Power Shows such as Tony Orlando(a must see when he comes to EPCCOT!) which probably is no good!

Still, youtube is free and TPI is free to use!

From Joshua Counsil on January 19, 2010 at 4:55 PM
Money makes it's a small world go 'round.
From M. Ryan Traylor on January 19, 2010 at 5:50 PM
The article stated that the corporate lawyers have the legal right to sue for these postings. Of course they do. But will they ever enforce it?

My thoughts are not until the park is portrayed in a negative light or there is a major safety issue. It's interesting to read about the paps following celebs. The parks are private property, but purchasing a ticket gains them entrance, but they must adhere to the guidelines of the park.

I've dealt with paparazzi on film sets on the streets of Los Angeles. Under those "controlled" circumstances there is a give and take between them and the production and ultimately both parties get what they need and leave each other alone. But I cannot imagine having to deal with them inside a park. Their running around in public to get there $$$$$ shot without regard to the people around them is what really irritates me. Sadly, the only real way to stop this is buy not reading/viewing the tabloids. (I could go on about this topic, but I will stop here)

But why wouldn't parks want people to post photos and videos online? The majority of it is good free press. I tip my hat to TPI for not allowing videos on the site that are against safety regulations.

Eventually it comes down to enforcement. If parks start doing this, they can't pick and choose, they have to sue everyone. But, I feel there are better rules like line-cutting that should be enforced.

From Tiffany Alfonso on January 22, 2010 at 10:36 AM
That reminds me of those doofuses called the Disneyland Locals, the teens who defamed Disneyland by having a Country Bear put a kid down his pants and other rowdy behavior! Yes, they have a ride video, but it displays the teens messing with "it's a small world" - stealing a panda ad putting it in a place outside its designated room! That was in 1995, mind you, but at least the video of the antics didn't include the entire ride they messed up!

Oh, and on photography on rides? Some outdoor rides are fine to photograph, but the rides with dark elements are forbidden! I can imagine 50 cameras from an Argentinean youth herd or Brazilian tour group flash during Spaceship Earth - patooie!

From 24.98.248.73 on January 24, 2010 at 9:11 PM
From the parks' viewpoint, there are some instances where they would like to have some element of control over what is shot for video - specifically when it comes to their live actors ("face" characters, stage actors, etc). Sometimes, those employees have it in their contracts over what/how their image is to be used. Some of those actors are never to be used for film purposes, while others are the only ones the parks allow TO be used in such manner. Of course, this applies more to commercial usage rather than random guest home videos, but the point still stands that there may be a business reason rather than an overall copyright or safety issue to prohibit some types of filming.

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