by Christian Duque
You should be aware that you could get kicked out, have your gym membership revoked, and you could also potentially be arrested if they don’t give you permission to do so. The fact is so many people are under the mistaken impression that gyms are public places and that as such gym-goers have no expectation of privacy. I suspect that a great deal of this lingo is product of the growing popularity of First Amendment auditors on YouTube. I think the work that they do is tremendous. Put in a nutshell, you have videographers who test the actual reach of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. They will go to public parks, courthouses, stand in front of prisons and even sometimes outside of military installations.
Anytime they’re asked to leave, they make the point that you can’t trespass the eyes and that so long as a First Amendment auditor is standing on public property, those they film have no expectation of privacy. Moreover, they can and and have stood on sidewalks and zoomed into windows. Even though this is extremely creepy, it’s very much legal, because if someone doesn’t want them filming into the window, they can draw the blinds. That said, there’s a huge difference between standing on a public sidewalk and filming from inside a gym.
The difference is that one is public property and the other is private. So what determines which is which?
Public property is government-owned property. And who is the government? The government is We The People. We fund it through our tax dollars and we have certain inalienable rights while on public property. Now not all public property allows for the same amount of “free speech.” This is why there is such a thing as time, place, and manner restrictions. There are also what are called limited public forums. All of these regulations are lawful so long as the speech regulated is done so on a content-neutral basis. If it’s content-specific where say Republican speech is allowed but Democrat speech is not, would be unconstitutional.
Speech isn’t limited to what you say. Speech is what you say, what you wear, and sometimes your silence can be a form of speech. Speech is expression. You can express yourself however you choose on public property, provided it’s not obscene. If it is obscene, there’s a whole other series of tests for that.
Gyms are 100% privately owned. Unless they receive government money their terms of service trump the Bill of Rights. There have been limited exceptions such as businesses that refused to allow black and white patrons in. The government used the 13th Amendment to force establishments that tried to carry on the injustice that was separate but equal onward. This also happened with certain golf associations, country clubs, and private schools that tried to keep segregation alive long after it was outlawed. Aside from these limited circumstances, however, the government will not intervene in how businesses choose to operate.
If a gym prohibits gym members from photographing or videotaping other members without their permission, then then the gym can punish those violating it’s guidelines however they see fit.
The only other issue to be discussed would be notice. The gym need to provide gym members with notification of any rule changes and/or modified terms. After all a gym membership is a contract. It’s no different than your car lease, home mortgage or rent, or employment agreement. This is why gyms will post these updates on large posters, send out emails, and sometimes have staff walking around deterring potential activity in violation of the guidelines.
Filming others without permission in a gym is very much a violation of members’ privacy – especially if the footage gets put on social media. If it goes viral, then counless individuals will save and post the content. The unsuspecting gym-goer has now become the butt of everyone’s jokes. He/she has to live with this and they never ever gave their permission. Further to that, much of what gets taped and posted in these situations at the gym falls under three main categories for the most part.
The first category is creeping. There’s men and women who may find an unsuspecting gym goer attractive. They may admire their look or they might like the amount of muscle they’ve built. They may also just like the person’s vibe. Then they take a photo or a video and post it to social media or share it among their friends. This might seem innocent on the surface, but it’s anything but. Then maybe a friend posts it on their social media. Maybe an unknown follower then reposts it on their page, maybe that picture eventually gets used in an ad, and maybe one day people who the initial poster who took the photo never met are now profiting off the photo that no one ever got permission to take or publish. Now what you have is a lawsuit and the person who snapped the initial shot is in deep trouble.
This not only could happen, but has happened. I know of people in the fitness industry who have found their arms, legs, and other body parts used in ads. How do they know it’s theirs? First, they can tell by the look of the muscle, but directly, they can tell by the skin complexion and very unique tattoos.
Could you imagine seeing yourself or parts of your physique in an ad and being clueless as to how it got there? That’s not cool. That’s not cool at all.
The second category is body shaming. I can’t tell you how many videos I’ve seen on social media where obese people and/or skinny people are made fun of for simply trying to get a good workout in. They’re mocked for not having muscle or they’re mocked for being just too thin. They didn’t ask to be put on blast – hell – they didn’t even know they were being photographed or filmed. When they see themselves on social media how do you think they feel? How angry do you think they are at the gyms?
The third category falls under “Gym Fuckery.” That’s an actual brand but it’s also a sub-genre. Do most of the people they feature consent to being filmed? I don’t know. Do most people who tape others lifting in the gym do so with good intentions? I highly doubt it.
They want to make fools out of people who maybe don’t know how to lift, but are at least at the gym, TRYING TO!
In today’s day and age there’s unsavory characters that will stop at nothing to be popular. If that means filming someone else, ruining their self-esteem, and making them wish they’d never gone to the gym to begin with, they’ll post whatever content they need to achieve their goals. They have no moral compass. They don’t care about anyone but themselves, but now gyms are cracking down!! So beware if this is you!!
When I see gyms taking action, I say well done! Throw them out, revoke their memberships, and if need be (depending on the severity) call law enforcement.
That’s just my two cents. What say you?