Henson Sued for Empire State Building Photos
Art Law

Photographer sued for topless photos at Empire State Building

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Last year, New York City police officers were told that if they see any topless woman in public, they were not to arrest them. If crowds form, just disperse them in an orderly fashion.

 To test how police would react to that directive, photographer Allen Henson began taking photos of topless women around the city.  This past August, Henson and a model climbed to the crowded observation deck of the Empire State building, where the model proceeded to remove her top while Henson captured the event on his cell phone. Now, Henson faces a $1.1 million lawsuit from the Empire State Building (ESB).

Allen Henson faces a $1.1 million lawsuit from the Empire State Building  for his topless photo shoot.

The suit claims that since Henson’s shoot was for a commercial purpose and he didn’t get prior permission form the ESB, he was effectively trespassing on ESB property. The ESB claims that Henson “intentionally violated rules of the Observatory, intentionally engaged in unauthorized, objectionable, and inappropriate conduct in full view of ESB’s customers, tenants, visitors, including families with children, and employees” and damaged its “reputation as a safe and secure family friendly tourist attraction.” The ESB also claims that the building had to “divert management time, resources and attention to deal with the inappropriate objectionable conduct and potentially dangerous situation the defendant created.” The ESB’s claims that Henson’s actions costs them $100,000 in damages with the remaining $1,000,000 being punitive.

Henson is shocked saying that it wasn’t a commercial shoot, “I am a professional photographer, but that doesn’t mean that every time I touch a device with a camera on it, I must be conducting a photo shoot.” He says he wasn’t trespassing.  He paid admission and shot the topless woman on a cell phone.  Since the shoot wasn’t for a commercial purpose, he didn’t need to get permission.

See also
Fair Use of Copyright Images in Your Blog

The ESB may have a point though.  According to their website, permission is needed for a photo shoot.

 We will consider requests that:

  • Showcase ESB positively, respectfully and responsibly
  • Feature ESB, and not just views/skyline shots from its Observatory

To request permission for filming or a photo session, please submit the following information . . . . Based on the volume of requests, responses may take up to two weeks. Keep in mind that requests are subject to licensing and location fees and agreements.

 What is considered a “photo shoot” or was the shoot for a “commercial purpose” are among the various questions that will need to be answered as this case moves forwards.  But the real question will be whether the ESB can show that they accrued damages of $100,000 and whether Henson’s should be required to pay $1,000,000 in punishment for his actions.


If you have any questions or any stories of your own, please leave your comments below or feel free to email me.  And if you found this article interesting, please share it on your social media.    


About the author

Steve Schlackman

As a photographer and Patent Attorney with a background in marketing, Steve has a unique perspective on art, law, and business. He is currently serving as the Chief Product Officer at Artrepreneur. You can find his photography at artrepreneur.com or through Fremin Gallery in NYC.

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