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I was rereading Killer Market by Margaret Maron. In this book furniture buyers and reporters and others are admitted to a complex of buildings housing offices and showrooms for a set of sales-related parties, as part of a major furniture show. One person P is apparently taking photos from a hallways of new furniture designs through windows into a closed showroom. Another person E comes from inside, and demands the film, threatening to "stomp your camera" if the film is not surrendered. P does surrender the film with an attitude that suggests that he felt he had been caught acting wrongly or even illegally.

P was standing in a hallway to which he had apparently been lawfully admitted, and was not trespassing. (At least let us assume P was admitted lawfully.) Could an employee or owner of the showroom such as E lawfully demand the film, whether under a trade-secret theory or any other. If P had said "Sorry public hall, no reasonable expectation of privacy" could E have taken any lawful action?

The book was set in 1996 or 97 (copyright 97) in High Point, North Carolina, where there is in fact a large furniture industry, and a semi-annual "market week" attended by buyers and sellers from all over the world.

Edit:

Based on events in the book it seems that people admitted to these shows were not asked or required to sign any agreement, including a "no photography" agreement. At least the one person who is a PoV character is not asked, and no one mentions such an agreement at any time. Let us assume that there was no such written agreement. I do see that if there were such an agreement, it would have been enforceable, although not (lawfully) by a threat to do property damage (destruction of camera.

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  • Often, admittance is based on terms of services, that are not directly noticeable. Like you go on the bus and you don#t sign the ToS of the bus, but by using the service you agree to them. By going there, you agree to the ToS which the book does not disclose - they might or might not contain a "no photography" rule, but most business faires do have a "no photography without express allowance" rule.
    – Trish
    Oct 1, 2021 at 10:37

2 Answers 2

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Yes

P was standing in a hallway to which he had apparently been lawfully admitted

Indeed. And what were the conditions imposed on P for that lawful admittance? If one of those was "no photography" then P would not have been lawfully on the premises once they started taking pictures; at that point, they would have been a trespasser. Similarly, if they were admitted under conditions of confidence.

As a trespasser, the information they obtained would not have been obtained legitimately and would fall foul of protection on trade secrets.

Of course, P's actions can be "wrong" without being unlawful.

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The primary requirement of something having trade secret status is that it be kept secret.

If you don't have to sign a non-disclosure agreement and aren't bound by some other common law obligation to keep what you see secret (e.g. attorney-client privilege, or an employee's duty of loyalty at common law to an employer), then it is, by definition, no longer a trade secret. At a minimum, there would have had to have been an oral agreement not to do so, or an announcement that the ground rules for entry included not taking any photographs. The facts in the question don't obviously suggest such an obligation in the absence of an express non-disclosure agreement

This wouldn't necessarily defeat a claim that the materials photographed were copyrighted, however. In 1996 or 1997, copyrights arose by operation of law without formal registration, so if the furniture designs were subject to copyright, that would provide a remedy for the property owner that would at least provide a colorable right to support the demand to destroy the film.

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