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Is That Legal – Itsy Bitsy Spider Prank

Spider by vtsr from Flickr

Today, my friend Heather posted a link to the video of Sketch Empire’s Itsy Bitsy Spider Prank on Improv AZ’s Facebook wall. I laughed so hard. It was a great way to start the day.

It looks like this prank took place in a mall. One prankster on an upper floor would lower a big spider on a string down in front of an unsuspecting person below and another prankster would film them freaking out. It’s simple, but funny when you get over-the-top reactions.

One unsuspecting mall patron didn’t think it was funny. After being scared by the spider, he immediately spotted the cameraman across the way and demanded that he delete the footage of him.  He threatened to call the police to make the pranksters delete it.

Is it Illegal to Scare People with Giant Fake Spiders?
I think it’s unlikely that someone would be arrested or cited for a simple practical joke, especially one that lasts only a matter of seconds. When the motive is to be funny, not malicious, I have trouble finding criminal fault.

I could see a situation, however, where someone gets scared by the spider and falls backwards in fright and breaks their wrist when they fall. In that situation, the pranksters are the direct cause of the fall and should be financially liable for the person’s injuries.

Could it Ever be a Crime?
Yes. The law generally criminalizes offensive touching of another person or putting a person in fear of offensive touching. If the pranksters touch someone with the spider or put a reasonable person in fear of being touched by the spider, they could be charged with assault and/or battery depending on the applicable state law.

Did the Guy’s Argument that the Pranksters Invaded his Personal Space have Merit?
Probably not. In general, a person does not have an expectation of privacy in their whereabouts in public. Our movements are videotaped all the time by security cameras. A person with a smartphone or flip is just one of many cameras on us any time we’re in public.

If the mall had a policy against videotaping on the premises, the patron might have had a legitimate expectation of privacy while he was there, but I don’t know of any mall that doesn’t have security cameras.

You do have a privacy right related to the commercialization of your image. If the pranksters are making money off that video, the guy might have an argument that the video interfered with that right, but still couldn’t prohibit the shooting of the video itself.

Could the Pranksters get in Trouble with the Mall?
It depends. Malls are private property and the mall cops have the responsibility to keep the peace. If they caught the pranksters scaring people with a giant spider, they would have the authority to tell them stop.

Some malls have rules that prohibit patrons from taking pictures or shooting videos inside the mall. If that’s the rule at this mall, the pranksters could be told to stop filming or told to leave.

I think the Itsy Bitsy Spider Prank is hilarious and pretty harmless. I think their biggest issue will be not getting caught by the mall cops if they continue to do it. Improv AZ learned the hard way that even when you think you’re taking all the proper precautions and are willing to leave upon request, the mall cops can still freak out and call the real cops, which isn’t fun at the time but makes for great YouTube footage.

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2 Comments

  1. Cody says:

    I just wanted to clear up something. I know the author of the video personally, been in some of his videos, and I would like to correct you in that the Itsy Bitsy Spider Prank did not take place in a mall (though easily mistaken for one). It was done on the campus of The Ohio State University in a library. Though the points brought to question still stand.

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      Thanks for the info Cody!