Courtney B. Wilson, Your Photo Policy at the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum Sucks

Sign at the B&O museum

Saw the photo to the left on Flickr today. It’s the posted photo policy of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum’s Photography Policy which reads in part: “photographs are permitted for personal use only and are not to be published anywhere (including personal web sites) without the expressed written consent of the Museum. Professional photography is strictly prohibited without the written permission of the Chief or Senior Curators.”

Which is a really stupid photo policy for plenty of reasons. First off, this policy is entirely inconsistent with the stated “mission statement” of this non-profit museum. If you look at the musuem’s mission statement it reads that their mission is, in part, to: “preserve the physical legacy and experience of American railroading, and to interpret and present its history to the widest possible audience.”

Now, if you are really trying to present the history of this museum to the widest possible audience, then why prohibit users from posting images of the museum on the internet. If by the “widest possible audience” you mean people in other countries, etc. it would seem to me that posting images from this museum on the internet would be one way of sharing this. To tell visitors that they can take photos but not share photos of the museum online in non-commercial venues like blogs and flickr is in direct conflict with the museum’s stated mission statement.

What’s more, it’s a totally *stupid* policy that is entirely unenforceable. Here for instance is one such set of images taken from the B&O Museum online on Flickr. There are tons more on Flickr as well. Now what is the B&O Railroad Museum going to do about that? Are they going to go sue some flickr user? And sue them for what? They don’t own copyright to the locomotives in their collection.

It seems to me that this musuem’s policy is simply another example of a museum who lets some power hungry curator draft some totally daft policy that is both unenforceable and in direct conflict with it’s mission statement. Rather than trying to prohibit images from their museum from daring to show their presence on the super evil internet, The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum should embrace non-commercial use of imagery from their museum and see if for what it could be, valuable PR towards encouraging people to come visit the museum. Unless their museum really does just totally suck that bad and they are afraid that if people see what it’s like online that they wouldn’t dare pay the price of admission.

Now I have no plans on going to Baltimore any time soon. But I tell you. If I tell you if/when I do ever visit Baltimore I’d either skip this museum entirely or possibly just go and then post my photos against they’re stated policy anyways.

Courtney B. Wilson is the director of this museum. If you think a museum that doesn’t allow you to post images of the museum online sucks, feel free to reach out to him. There’s a group forum thread on this topic at Flickr here.

In the meantime if you’d like to look at some photos of a train museum, check out my collection of images from the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento. It’s a great museum that I’d highly recommend, with a much more sane photo policy.

Thanks, David!

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12 Comments

  1. Agreed, and bollocks to the lot of ’em. We have similar problems here in the UK – I’ve gotten told off before now for a) taking photos from the roof level of a multi-storey car-park “because no one is allowed up here at all” (‘cos of course all the cars up there just flew up) and b) taking pix at the local railway station because VIrgin Trains do not want pix taking of their trains in case of terrorism. I said OK I’ll just snap the public buildings, but no, that’s naughty too. Sheesh!

  2. Keith says:

    Heh. Was just there this morning. Meant to snap a pic of that sign on my way out, but had a handful of squirming toddler.

    Anyway, a silly policy indeed. Am I prohibited from posting photos of my son with a B&O train in the background? The site is private, but “on the Internet.” Seems a little silly, and almost *more* annoying than a general prohibition.

    Way to turn up the suck, folks.

  3. William Beem says:

    My guess is that they want to preserve the memory of the museum, but only if you pay the museum for the privilege. Perhaps they feel people won’t visit if they can see the images elsewhere. If so, it’s still a stupid policy. The folks who are fans will want to get close to the real thing, and maybe take their own photographs.

    Just another example of shooting yourself in the foot to win a race.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Feel free to reach out to HIM or to HER? Is Courtney a guy?

    Pretty much agree with you, by the way.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Nevermind, I just found out Courtney can be a man’s name. How much does that suck?

  6. Ulrich says:

    I have been at Technik Museum Speyer with the family recently (see http://www.technik-museum.de/museum_speyer_english.html ) I checked their policy before. I was delighted to read in their faq the following statements (as otherwise I would have visited them):

    “Is photography allowed in the museum?
    Yes personal photography is allowed. With tripods and floodlights too if they do not impoede or disturb other visitors”

    “Can I publish my photos on the Internet?
    Yes you can publish the photos on your website and photo sharing platforms. We are also happy for you to send us your photos so we can publish them.”

    I think, every museum or institution open to the public should have such a policy. It is totally ridiculous to me when an institution that has a thousand or more visitors a day does not allow photographs.

  7. Much agree with you. Could you tell me more imformation?

  8. Kirk says:

    T.H.

    A few years ago, my wife and I took a trip to Baltimore and Washing ton D.C. in mid-may 2005. One of the first places we went to visit was the B & O Museum. It was amazing to see some the largest steam trains ever built.

    While I was at B & O I didn’t notice the sign that posted the photo policy. It must be something new that the museum has added. It’s a shame that they would put such restrictions on capturing history.

    I didn’t have a very good camera at the time so I wasn’t impressed with the pictures that I took. I have only ever posted on image that I took that day. It was an image of the George Washington. At 326,000 pounds it’s a massive piece of machinery. Here is a link to the image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kirkhoward/3030564390/.

    It’s a shame that museums like the B & O want to restrict and sensor the images that are posted on community and personal sites. If a photographer is going to use the images for gain or profit that is another issue. But to sensor a tourist or amateur photographer for personal use, well that’s just plain selfish on B & Os part.

  9. Ole M says:

    Wonder if he broke the rule, when he posted this image on the internet.
    That’d be ironic.

  10. dave says:

    They cannot enforce a rule that goes against “fair use” copyright law. Thats a state law last time I checked, and it trounces any signpost like He-Man trouncing garden insects.

    Fair use would be for artistic use or journalistic pretty much…

    What spaztics

  11. Jim P says:

    On the other hand other railroad museums welcome photo clubs and groups with open arms. The Dolly Sisters Pinup Group recently did a photo shoot at the Shore Line Trolley Museum in East Haven, CT.

  12. Tapani says:

    There’s a very simple answer to this stupidity: vote with your wallet and only patronize more friendly institutions, like Golden Gate Railroad Museum (http://www.ggrm.org) or Laws Railroad Museum in Bishop, CA (http://www.lawsmuseum.org)