Protecting The Brand: Beyonce Knowles vs. The First Amendment

Remember when Beyoncé performed during the Super Bowl halftime show and this hilarious meme-birthing picture was taken?

Superbowl XLVII - Baltimore Ravens v San Francisco 49ers  - Mercedes-Benz Superdome

And then she flipped out and tried to have it scrubbed from the entire internet?  Well, three months later and Queen Bey is back at it.  She's currently on her Mrs. Carter Show World Tour and she completely banned outside photographers, while releasing only pre-approved flattering pics to various news outlets.  Beyoncé's goal  is to have total control over her image, so instead of newspapers and websites running photos of her looking like She Hulk, she'll instead look like this:

beyonce-mrs-carter-world-tour_612x612

Reasonable minds can argue whether the kind of control she's attempting is even possible in the internet age (hint: it isn't).  But I'm more curious about the effect that this kind of totalitarianism will have on her brand.  The conventional wisdom is that Beyoncé isn't doing herself any favors by limiting press access to her and having relentless control over the pressers that do get access.  On the face of it, it makes her seem out of touch with reality.  But is that harmful to her brand?  I'm not so sure. The people who love Beyoncé are already convinced of her beauty, talent, and semi-royal status and are willing to write off the unflattering pics as aberrations.  And the people who don't love her?  Well they certainly won't be convinced by these autocratic methods, but I don't think she's trying to win them over anyway. Beyoncé knows herself and her audience, and as long as they keep her rich and famous, that's probably enough.

I've seen it argued that Beyoncé's grasp on her self-awareness is tenuous at best if she thinks she can control her image to this degree, but I would argue that she's read the situation better than we giver her credit for.  After all, she hasn't sued anyone to take down the unflattering pictures (to my knowledge, she only sent polite email requests to various outlets), and that fact tells me that she knows where the line is between egomania and villainy and she's not willing to cross it.

So my guess is that while this probably won't make her MORE popular, her brand is as safe as any celebrity brand can be.  But I say that with one caveat: she should avoid alienating the press, because they're the ones who can bring about her destruction.  If you've seen Beyoncé in interviews - as well as the remarkably self-serving HBO documentary she directed about herself - it's clear that she is a person of extreme self-confidence.  And the confidence she has in her abilities has driven some of the press to turn on her and lose their own grasps on reality.

In particular, the National Press Photographers Association.  They're claiming that the restrictions placed on them by Beyoncé and her management team is preventing them from doing their jobs, and that violates the First Amendment.   No, sorry fellas.  I understand that you're angry at having your access to Beyoncé cut off, but the First Amendment isn't applicable here.  Constitutional Law 101 tells us that the First Amendment only prevents the federal government (and state governments through a process known as incorporation) from restricting your freedoms of speech, press, religion, etc.  It says nothing about whether a person or organization can restrict your First Amendment rights... because they can!  Behold the text of the First Amendment:

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.

As you can see, not a word leading you to believe that individuals (like Beyoncé!) or corporations (like Beyoncé!) can't place restrictions on the press at events.  In fact, all of the Amendments in the Bill of Rights are there to prevent the government from limiting your rights.  But they apply only to the government.  So while Beyoncé's ban on photogs at her concerts may not be the best PR move, there's no legal reason she can't do it.

Greg Kanaan

The [Legal] Artist, Boston, MA, USA