Proposed copyright bill could outlaw holiday snaps of EU landmarks

Reuters / Marcelo del Pozo
A proposal for a new law brought before the European Parliament could outlaw online posting of photographs that include famous tourist attractions, if they are still under copyright.

Uploading photographs from your latest tour of EU landmarks could land you in court, should the European Parliament vote to approve a new copyright law on July 9.

Photographing famous landmarks, architecture and art displayed in public places could be outlawed throughout the European Union. Currently, laws regarding copyright protection of monuments, art and other public landmarks differ across Europe.

The UK, Ireland, Germany, Poland, Sweden and Spain are examples of countries which enjoy "freedom of panorama", meaning you can take pictures of cultural works located in public places and use them how you like.

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Other states, such as Norway and Finland, only allow this freedom for images of buildings, not other works like sculptures. Others, including the Baltic States, Romania and Bulgaria, only permit the use of pictures for non-commercial purposes.

In Italy, France, Greece and Belgium, there is no "freedom of panorama" at all, which in theory means that you have to obtain permission from the copyright holder before publishing or posting images of cultural objects anywhere.

That is why, for example, in the Wikipedia article about the Atomium in Brussels, the photograph of the building is blacked out. Instead, a miniaturized model is shown. Some 100 images of the Louvre pyramid have been deleted as well, along with about 4,500 others.

The law to be voted for or against on July 9 stems from a proposal by German Pirate Party MEP Julia Reda. She submitted a report suggesting that "freedom of panorama" standards should be unified throughout the EU.

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But her initial proposal was practically turned around with one amendment introduced by the European Parliament's legal committee. The amendment stated: "The commercial use of photographs, video footage or other images of works which are permanently located in physical public places should always be subject to prior authorization from the authors or any proxy acting for them."

In theory, this only has implications if you intend to use your photographs for commercial purposes, such as in advertisements.

However, it could become a problem when you upload your snapshots to Facebook, or any other website that reserves the right to use uploaders’ images for whatever purpose they like.

The law only affects those cultural landmarks that are still under copyright protection, meaning objects that are new enough to have a living copyright holder or a proxy. But this could also be more complicated than it sounds, as is the case with the Eiffel Tower: the building is not copyrighted, and you can snap it as much as you like during the day. But at night, its illuminations switch on. The lighting system is modern and still under copyright, and you could get into trouble for posting photographs of it.

The pending bill has kicked up a lot of indignation among photographers and experts. Charles Swan, a director of the Association of Photographers and an intellectual property lawyer, told the Times:"Most of the British public, not just photographers, would think this was pretty horrific."He did admit, however, that for architects, it might be"good news."

The Royal Institute of British Architects is also against the change. “We are concerned that the well-intentioned proposals to ensure that architects are paid for the use of images of their work by commercial publishers and broadcasters would instead have negative implications, and represent a potentially damaging restriction of the debate about architecture and public space,” its spokesperson told the Times. That is despite the potential benefits the institute might reap through copyright fees.