The Cosplay Is Not Consent movement has been well-known in the community for a while now. You think it would be a simple concept; always ask permission from the cosplayer if you request something (e.g. touch their prop, their body, get their photo). But in fact, it’s a lot more complicated, especially when it comes to cosplay photography.

PREFACE: My general opinion is that you should always be respectful and ask for permission from an individual cosplayer for their photo consent first. And that if they do not want their photo taken, respect their wishes and move on. That being said, there comes a point where w can’t expect everyone to ask for permission for every single photo, which is what this post is about.

So why did I even bother writing about this topic?

On a bright sunny day, I was browsing through the Anime North Facebook group. After the event was over (which I recommend most of you guys in Canada should attend), I noticed there was a debate related to cosplay is not consent, with regards to cosplay photography. This definitely was an issue at AN; one of the staff members even made a post about it:

Not only that, there were a few other things that made me want to discuss this topic:

  1. One attendee on the discussion board was complaining that she saw a cosplayer wearing a revealing cosplay, and how other attendees were taking numerous photos of him without asking for his permission. (Sort of like a bunch of tourists taking a picture of a monument)
  2. Another post involved a guy who was uploading the photos he took at Anime North this year. There was one photo where it looks like he took a picture of a female cosplayer without her noticing (it was actually his girlfriend). So someone left a comment saying how he should have asked for permission first. The original poster did not like the comment. And so an argument ensued whether he should have taken that photo, even though it was someone he already knew.
  3. I read another story about how a first-year attendee was lining up to pick his badge. As he was waiting in line, he decided to take a simple hallway shot of the convention centre. All of a sudden, a random attendee came up to him and put her hands on the camera lens. She started lecturing him about how “cosplay is not consent” and how “cosplayers are not there for his enjoyment.”

Cosplay is not consent…a grey area?

Otakuthon - Cosplay is not consent
Does cosplay is not consent apply in this situation? It would be very difficult to ask for everyone’s permission in this Otakuthon photo!

A couple of months ago, I shared one of my blog posts that is related to this topic. One commenter made a good point when it comes to photo consent at conventions:

“I’ve always had mixed feelings on this because I’m not sure how far people expect you to go with this.

Cosplay is not consent for touching, or harassment. 100% on board. But extending it to just taking a picture of someone? Well what does that mean? If you wanted to take a picture WITH the cosplayer 100% you need to ask. If you want them to stop what they are doing and pose, well you obviously have to ask. But outside of those things, I don’t see the need to ask. Assuming you aren’t harassing anyone or getting in people’s faces, if they are in public I just see that as fair game.

What is the general con policy at Anime north with the cosplay is not consent statement? Is it meant to cover candid photos as well? What about crowd pictures? Do I need to ask everyone in the parking lot before I take a picture of the line ups on opening day?”

In general, you should always ask permission if you want a photo of an individual cosplayer, and the cosplayer has the right to refuse as well.

But there’s a point where we must be reasonable (e.g. the idea of not being allowed to take general hallway shots is not only impractical, but pretty ridiculous and draconian as well).

In this post I will:

  • Clarify the rules regarding taking photos at a convention, and photography rules in general
  • The legitimate concerns and aggravations that cosplayers have, and the arguments that I agree and disagree with
  • What to take away from all this

What are the actual rules regarding photography?

DISCLAIMER: I am not a lawyer. I’m just a guy who’s running a cosplay community blog, so don’t take my word as legal definition. But based on what I’ve read, I believe what I’m posting here is true. I also used to be a journalist, so I learned about photography rules from that experience as well.

Let’s start with photography laws. Note these are the rules in Toronto. So if you live somewhere else, the rules may be different.

I found 2 websites that give relevant information:

When it comes to taking pictures at Anime conventions, what are you allowed to do?

If you’re on public space (e.g. outside on the street), you’re allowed to take photos of anything and everything (including people passing by).

My rule is that if you’re outside on public space and not on private property, you can take photos of whatever you want.

A long time ago for a photography assignment in school, I had to take a picture of the street. I forgot why, but that was my stupid assignment. So while I was on the sidewalk, I took picture of a traffic intersection.

Out of nowhere, one of the drivers that was in that intersection stopped right beside me, rolled down his window of his car and started yelling at me, trying to intimidate me about how what I was doing is illegal.

I calmed him down and told him while I’m more than happy to delete the photo, what I was doing was in fact legal because we are outside and on public space.

After he realized that I knew the law, he mumbled something like, “Oh but you shouldn’t be doing that.” And immediately drove away. He must have had something to hide. But since I knew the law, he didn’t dare to bother me afterwards.)

The property owners grant permission for you to take photos within their property.

For example, if you’re in a museum, the owners are allowing you to be in their property and take photos of their exhibits and whatever is in that building.

But what are the general rules at cosplay conventions regarding photography?

I’m going to use Anime North as an example.

According to the back of my Anime North weekend pass, you must ask for permission if you want to take a photo of an individual. But at the same time, it warns that by entering the convention space, you may be photographed or videotaped. So it’s basically how I feel about the photography; ask for permission but assume that you might be photographed without permission while you’re at Anime North.

There are other photography rules but they’re more so about not blocking walking spaces and not taking pictures of artwork than photo consent:

With this in mind, we can assume that you can take photos almost anywhere you’d like at most Anime conventions. Why? Because you are out in public at a con. And because there’s a reasonable expectation at cons that public photos are being taken by the attendees. The fact that AN staff had to point this out in their Facebook discussion page confirms this expectation.

So if you’re taking a hallway photo and you happen to get a few cosplayers in that photo, then you’ll probably be fine. Because either you’re on public space where it’s expected that the population is out in public. Or you’re in a space where you’ve been granted permission to take photos (at an Anime convention of course).

If you took a candid photo of a cosplayer while they were eating or looking away from you in public, that’s not the nicest or socially acceptable thing to do. But it’s still legal, for the same reasons above.

What isn’t allowed?

You can’t do anything illegal while you’re attempting to take a photo. Examples include trespassing, committing voyeurism, or taking photos where there’s a reasonable expectation of privacy (e.g. bathroom).

So if you’re breaking into hotel rooms in order to get a photo, taking pictures up someone’s dress or sneaking into bathrooms to get photos in there, then yes you’ll definitely get into trouble for doing that. That’s all illegal.

If you see any of these things happening at a convention, immediately inform convention staff so the aggressor can be apprehended. I 100% agree with the cosplay is not consent when stuff like this happens. Totally unacceptable.

Why are cosplayers making a big fuss about getting their cosplay photo taken? Isn’t that the whole point of cosplaying?

Shield Hero Senpai sleeping
There’s a time and place for when you should ask for a photo from a cosplayer. Certainly don’t ask when Senpai is sleeping!

Before I get into this section, I want to emphasize that I agree and disagree with the concerns that cosplayers have with photo consent.

What I agree with

There are many valid reasons why a cosplayer will say “no” when you ask for a photo.

Most of the time, they’re not rejecting you personally; it’s because of the situation. I will call this Situational Refusal.  Here are a few scenarios where cosplayers will refuse to pose for a photo:

  • They’re eating/sitting down and don’t want to be disturbed. Food in their mouths won’t make for a good cosplay photo anyway.
  • They’re busy doing a private photoshoot. Getting good cosplay photos can be difficult so best not to disturb them.
  • They have somewhere to be. I know one cosplayer who actually missed a masquerade contest because of all the attendees wanting photos of her cosplay.
  • They’re having a bad day/something traumatic came up. It’s okay if you cannot initially tell; I myself am good at hiding my feelings. One time I wanted a photo of a cosplayer, and her friend told me she was having a mental breakdown. I apologized and wished her well, and I moved on. Cons can be stressful, especially if you have bad hotel roommates.

In these situations, it’s completely acceptable that the cosplayer refuses to have their photo taken. Why?

It’s because of the situation that they don’t want to pose for a photo. So when I see people arguing that cosplay is not consent and they have the right to refuse a photo, most of the time they’re talking about Situational Refusal. It totally makes sense why they don’t want their photo taken in these situations and I agree with them.

Taking a candid shot of a cosplayer is frowned upon as well. Cosplay is not consent in this situation. You wouldn’t want someone to take an unflattering photo of you? Or treating you like you’re some flashy exhibit at a museum? Of course not. So it’s considered good con etiquette to get photo consent from the cosplayer first before taking a picture of them.

Some argue that there are attendees who are too shy to ask for photo consent, especially since some cosplayers can be pretty intimidating.

I’m on the fence with this; I still think you should ask. But personally, I’m pretty cool about it and cut them some slack. If I see someone taking a picture of me or pointing their camera at me, I’ll take the initiative and say “You want a picture?” Then they smile and say, “Yes please!” I give them the benefit of the doubt.

I don’t treat them like they’re being paparazzi; they just want a photo of my costume, which is a compliment to me!

And of course, the inappropriate stuff like stalking a cosplayer, demanding a photo or committing voyeurism are complete no-nos.

All these scenarios are completely valid reasons why cosplayers have animosity with some attendees trying to take their photographs.

What I don’t agree with

What I DON’T agree with: when a cosplayer expects FULL privacy for the entire convention (i.e. no photos of them at all, even if they’re in the background for a photo not about them). I call this Complete Refusal. Because in these situations, it’s not that I feel cosplay is not consent isn’t valid. It’s just impractical expectations.

Complete Refusal to me is when a cosplayer does not want a photo of their costume AT ALL during the entire convention. They expect everyone else at the convention to cater towards them. These are the same people who are against taking hallway or general shots at a convention. Because if they happen to be way out in the background of a photo, that is “not consent!”

While the cosplayer still has a right to refuse to take a photo (even for the whole convention), I am against the IDEA of Complete Refusal for 3 reasons:

  1. It’s unrealistic to expect complete privacy at an Anime convention. You’re in a convention centre with over 20,000+ people, who are taking photos of other cosplayers, of the building, of the crowd, of the scenery, etc. You can’t expect all 20,000 attendees to point their cameras away from you while doing this. You may end up in a photo unintentionally; But when you have that many people in one area, it’s only natural for that to happen. If you don’t want attention to yourself at a convention, you’re better off not cosplaying at all. Or cosplaying a character where it’s hard to identify it’s actually you.
  2. It doesn’t make sense! I mean, if you’re dressing up at a convention, don’t you want people to ask for your photo? Most cosplayers I know want people to notice their work and effort they put into creating their costume. What better way than for someone asking for a photo of you in your costume?
  3. We are inconsistent when it comes to cosplay is not consent to (photography wise). Another issue I find is that as cosplayers, we are inconsistent about what we find as acceptable photography and unacceptable photography. We give photo consent for one situation, and don’t give photo consent for another. Take this for example (this actually does happen):
Scenario A

Cosplayer A is wearing a VERY popular costume. They get stopped in the middle of the hallway, posing in front of 20+ photographers who want his/her photo at the same time. Cosplayer A is okay with all these random photographers taking his/her photo, even if some of them are taking it without the cosplayer noticing.

Scenario B

Cosplayer B is walking in the middle of the convention hallway, and gets stopped by one single photographer for a quick photo. Cosplayer B says “Yes.” While Cosplayer B is posing for the photographer, another attendee jumps in to take a photo of Cosplayer B as well. However, Cosplayer B gets upset at the attendee that just jumped in for a quick photo, because he/she did not get permission; only the initial photographer did.

Cosplayers at Otakuthon
A bunch of people took our photos when we posed here at Otakuthon. Should I be upset if someone randomly jumped in and also wanted our photo? This is what makes some aspects of cosplay is not consent difficult when it comes to photography.

The question is” why in Scenario B, would the cosplayer make a fuss about someone taking their photo without their photo consent, and not in Scenario A? It’s totally possible that there are people taking candid photos of the cosplayer in Scenario A. It’s just harder to notice in Scenario A than in Scenario B.

What about when you’re at a convention rave? Or during a masquerade? At a panel? At a video-recorded Q&A? In all these different places at a convention, you are either being photographed or videotaped at these activities, whether you know it or not. Are we going to stop the music at the rave in order to ask everyone on the dance floor if the official photographer can snap a photo? Are we going to cut the footage out of a celebrity guest Q&A because someone who willingly went to a public activity, didn’t want to be filmed? Is the masquerade contestant going to stop the show because he or she didn’t like how someone took their photo while walking on stage? Of course not!

In my opinion, there’s a reasonable expectation that attendees and cosplayers will be photographed and videotaped, and that it’s okay to take photos without photo consent. But why are we okay with this, but not okay when someone else does it?

So why be mad about one thing, but not the other?

Here’s a photo I took at Anime North this year. Did I really need to ask all these people for photo consent to take this hallway shot? Maybe in the future I will.

What to take from all this and how it relates to cosplay is not consent

As long as you ask for permission and have the right expectations and rules (whether you’re a cosplayer, attendee or photographer), 99% of the time you’ll have no issues and a wonderful time at a convention!

Like many attendees and cosplayers, I have strong opinions on the topic of photo consent at cosplay conventions. As mentioned before, I am all for cosplay is not consent. Many attendees at cons need to show some respect and keep their damn hands to themselves and ask for permission before you touch or do anything! But much like photography rules themselves, it’s a grey area when it comes to cosplay is not consent taking photos of cosplayers in specific situations.

Overall, cosplayers usually have valid reasons why they don’t want to pose for a photo (e.g. situational refusal). And there are times when there are people doing truly malicious things at a convention, such as voyeurism, stalking and harassing cosplayers for a photo.

That being said, like most cosplayers I am happy and honoured when someone asks to take a photo of me in cosplay. It shows that people like and enjoy my costume, and it probably means that my costume is good as well! In these cases, I gladly give photo consent. Unless I’m eating or have to be somewhere right away, I’ll always stop for a photo request.

Personally, I like to think every hallway shot of my costume is a potentially free photo I can share on my Instagram (if they allow me, of course). All I have to do is credit the photographer – I get likes and the person who took the photo gets attention from my page. It’s a win-win for both of us!

Cosplay conventions should update their photo consent policy to remind people when it’s okay to ask for a photo, and when it’s generally not okay. I had so many people thank me for making my previous post related to photography because they did not know these unwritten rules. It just shows you that some people genuinely don’t know, especially if they’re new to conventions. I’m sure a lot of cosplayers and attendees taking photos will be happier with less conflict if photography rules and etiquette were more clarified at cons.

But do con organizers need to crack down on photography and consent during their events? Of course not! Are we really going to be at the point where no one will be allowed to snap any photos whatsoever unless the photographer gets photo consent from every single person that happens to be in the picture? How difficult (and resource-heavy) would it be for con organizers to enforce this rule upon thousands of people who take photos without everyone knowing?

Let’s not take things to an extreme though. Just because you are legally allowed to take photos in public, doesn’t mean you should be shoving a camera in people’s faces and snapping photos at will. If you’re a cosplayer and don’t want a photographer to take your photo, then it’s okay to be honest and tell them why.

And just because it’s proper etiquette to ask for photo permission first, doesn’t mean you should be scolding someone at the convention for allegedly taking a candid photo, who in fact only wanted a quick photo of the convention space.

Still…Cosplay is not consent

To summarize: Always ask for permission if you want a particular cosplayer’s photo, and be respectful of their wishes if they give photo consent or not. On the same token, if you’re a cosplayer and you happen to be in a photo you were unaware of, chill out! For the most part, no one is out to get you.

One cosplay photographer who replied to my discussion sums this up perfectly:

“To respond from a photographer’s point of view, most photographers are not out to make you look bad, soil your real life job, or use you for promotional purposes. Even if they own the photo the photographer needs to be an active positive part of the community.

Take the bible protestors (at) Anime North. They may have been within their legal rights to act the way they were but they didn’t make any friends. If the only defence you have for your actions is that it isn’t illegal, then it can still be shady and give you a bad reputation.

Best to ask and if someone doesn’t give permission move on. There are plenty of people that want their picture taken.

As a cosplayer please take is as a compliment that a photographer wants to take a photo of your creation. Even if you are uncomfortable for the most part they are complimenting your craftsmanship or true to character creation.”

How do you feel about photos being taken at cosplay conventions? Do you think convention staff and organizers need to crack down on photo consent? Or are we taking things too far? Let me know in the comments!

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