Is Freedom of Panorma Under Attack?

On 9 July 2015, the European Parliament will vote on whether to abolish our right to freely take and share photographs, videos and drawings of buildings and works of public art.

“Freedom of panorama”, which is the right to take and use photos of cultural works located in public spaces — buildings, sculptures and public art. The Copyright Directive allows member states to create such an exception within their copyright laws but does not require it, so different countries naturally have taken different positions.

The UK has an explicit right under section 62 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, originally dating back to the Copyright Act 1911. Ireland’s Copyright and Related Rights Act 2000 (s93) and Australia’s Copyright Act 1968 (s65) provide the same rights.

For comparison, the USA would be pale green on this map — the equivalent law, 17 USC 120(a), excludes pictorial representations of buildings from the architect’s copyright, but does not provide the same exception for public works of art.

In other countries — notably France, Italy and Greece — there is absolutely no such right. In theory, in Italy, for example, when publishing pictures of “cultural goods” (buildings, sculptures, paintings and so on) for commercial purposes one must obtain authorization from the Ministry of Arts and Cultural Heritage.

Recently, the Legal Affairs committee (JURI), has just adopted French centrist MEP Jean-Marie Cavada’s amendment to the report, removing Freedom of Panorama rights across the EU (and EFTA) member-states by adding the following text to the following paragraph to Julia Reda’s report to the Eu Parliament’s review of the Copyright Directive (2001/29/EC):

“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 authorization from the authors or any proxy acting for them”.

A restriction to Freedom of Panorama to non-commercial use would therefore bring millions of Europeans into conflict with copyright law over their perfectly harmless, everyday online usage.

The restriction of Freedom of Panorama would also greatly complicate the business of journalists, professional photographers or documentary filmmakers, whose activities are clearly commercial, but who have for decades been able to rely upon the public space as a resource that can be used freely by anybody without having to negotiate a license first. If one goal of copyright law is to stimulate the creation of new art and information, this change would clearly be counter-productive. In contrast to some artists relying on the public space to create their works, the main source of income for architects certainly isn’t the sale of illustrations of the finished building.

It’s easy to see that the overall effect of a restriction of Freedom of Panorama for creators would be negative.