Friday, 3 July 2015

New EU Law, A Midsummer Nightmare?

On every European vacation, tourists can never get enough photographs of the Eiffel Tower or the London eye. But if the new European Union (hereinafter referred to as EU) law is passed, the tourists will be left gaping.

The EU Press Release dated June 16, 2015 titled EU Copyright Reforms must balance Rightholder’s and Users’ Interests, says MEPs stated “On the “freedom of panorama” principle, such as the right to create and share images and photographs of public buildings, the text cautions that the commercial use of such reproductions should require authorization from the rightholder.”

Freedom of Panorama

Freedom of Panorama is a provision in the copyright laws which permits taking photographs, videos and creating other images such as paintings of buildings, sculptures and other work of art, permanently located in a public place, without infringing any copyright that may otherwise subsist in such works, and to publish such images.

The EU countries are divided on the recognition of freedom of panorama. While countries like UK, Ireland, Germany, Poland, Sweden and Spain enjoy freedom of panorama, other countries, like Italy, France, Greece and Belgium do not recognize this freedom which means that one has to obtain permission from the copyright holder before publishing or posting images of buildings, sculptures and other work of art in which a copyright subsists. However, certain countries like Norway and Finland, only allow this freedom for images of buildings and no other works like sculptures. While others, including the Baltic States, Romania and Bulgaria, only permit the use of pictures for noncommercial purposes.

The Issue

Draft Report

This issue stemed from a proposal by German Pirate Party, Member of European Parliament (MEP) Julia Reda. She submitted a report suggesting that “Freedom of Panorama” standards should be unified throughout the EU.

The Draft Report presented by her mentioned that copyright law can be practical and fair if the depiction of public buildings and sculptures is exempt from copyright protection. The extremely diverging implementation of the “freedom of panorama” in different Member States shows that there needs to be a pan-European, broadly defined users’ right to display and communicate works that are located permanently in public places.


However, the above proposal was amended by the Legal Affairs Committee of the EU Parliament to read as follows:

Amendment 421, adopted in committee with the votes of European People’s Party, Socialists & Cavada:

16. Considers that 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 authorisation from the authors or any proxy acting for them;

Effect of this Change

Theoretically, this new law only has implications for commercial use of photographs, such as in advertisements, movies etc.

However, it could become a problem for private use as well when these photographs are uploaded on social networking sites such as Facebook, or other website that reserves the right to use uploaders’ images (most networking sites contain such terms which permit them to obtain an IP license for the content uploaded by its users. This subject has been covered in our previous newsletter titled “Unwittingly Licensing IP on Social Media?” and is available here).

Further, the law will only affect those cultural landmarks that are still under the purview of copyright protection, that is, the work is new enough to have a living copyright holder or a proxy.
But there are other complications associated with this. For example, the Eiffel Tower: the building is not copyrighted, and one may click it to the heart’s content during the day. But at night, it is illuminated. The lighting system is considerably modern and under copyright, and so one may get into trouble for posting photographs of it.


In reference to this law, a movement has been initiated by way of a petition through by one Nico Trinkhaus. In the said petition, Trinkhaus has pointed out that the true objective of the Draft Report presented by Julia Reda has been lost and said that “Instead of bringing the Freedom of Panorama to the few countries that don’t know such law yet, it would take it away from all those who do.” He has called on the members of the European Parliament to not limit the Freedom of Panorama in any way and instead to bring the Freedom of Panorama to all member states of the EU so that the European Citizens can be assured to act within the law when taking and publishing photographs from public buildings anywhere in the European Union.

The EU Parliament is set to vote on this law on July 9, 2015.

  1. Draft Report on the Implementation of Directive 2001/29/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 May 2001 on the Harmonisation of certain aspects of Copyright and related rights in the Information Society, (2014/2256(INI)); Committee on Legal Affairs; Julia Reda.
  2. Amendments 281 – 556 on Draft Report on the Implementation of Directive 2001/29/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 May 2001 on the Harmonisation of certain aspects of Copyright and related rights in the Information Society, (2014/2256(INI)); Committee on Legal Affairs; Julia Reda.
  3. EU Press Release - EU Copyright Reform must Balance Rightholders’ and Users’ Interests, say MEPs dated June 16, 2015.

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