Sunday

29th Mar 2020

Freedom to take photos divides MEPs

  • Could the EU effectively ban tourist photos? (Photo: Peter Teffer)

Not a second seems to go by on Amsterdam's central Dam Square without a tourist taking a photo.

A woman is photographing a pair of fiddlers, two young women use a selfie-stick, a man takes a picture of a woman with a pigeon in her hand.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or join as a group

  • The Netherlands has implemented freedom of panorama (Photo: Peter Teffer)

Many tourists also take pictures of the square's royal palace, but also of Amsterdam's newer buildings. They are free to do so, including of buildings which are still protected by copyright.

But buildings too can be protected by copyright – a fact many people are unaware of.

Several EU countries, including the Netherlands, have adopted a principle called freedom of panorama, which allows you to take photos in public places and do with them what you like.

But a report due to be voted on in the European Parliament Thursday afternoon (9 July) has raised fears that this principle is is “under threat”.

The report, by German MEP Julia Reda, is a non-binding text meant to feed into European Commission legislative proposals on copyright due later this year.

The freedom of panorama principle is causing a scuffle among MEPs.

Reda herself called for the principle to be upheld across the EU - currently the copyright exception is voluntary and not adopted by countries like France, Belgium, and Italy.

Amendment

However, during the vote on amendments in the parliament's legal affairs committee, a majority of committee MEPs supported a change proposed by French Liberal MEP Jean-Marie Cavada.

The amendment reads:

"[The European Parliament] 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”.

If this ever made it into law, it would have wide-ranging implications.

This is because the term "commercial use" has become blurry since the advent of social media. Facebook for example, states in its contract that it may use commercially any photo its users have uploaded .

For Reda, the change to the hard-fought report carrying her name, stings.

She has put forward another amendment. But, at the minimum, she wants Cavada's paragraph deleted.

Reda said she will vote against her own report if it says freedom of panorama needs to be restricted.

Status quo

Meanwhile, the centre-right EPP group, whose committee members had supported Cavada, sent out a press release on Wednesday, to calm those who fear "that the EU is about to legislate to ‘ban’ or ‘censor’ tourist photos of famous monuments, buildings and art work”.

It noted that the four main groups in the European Parliament support the status quo.

But it is the status quo which has led to a situation where citizens are unaware of what they can and cannot share.

“There are some countries in the EU today that don't have freedom of panorama, but nevertheless the ordinary person shares pictures of public buildings without ever thinking about copyright implications”, said Reda.

'It's allowed, right?'

And indeed, in Amsterdam, one tourist expressed confusion when confronted with the idea of copyright-protected buildings.

Mary Khurtsidze from Georgia was walking on Dam Square with a single-lens reflex camera hanging from her neck.

“I will upload the pictures on my Facebook. It's allowed, right?”, she said.

Khurtsidze was not aware that during a previous trip to Paris, different rules applied compared to her current holiday in Amsterdam.

“Nobody told me”, the tourist said.

“If it is not allowed to take pictures, there should be some signs outside. Am I in trouble?”.

No, she is not. No matter if the Netherlands has implemented freedom of panorama or not - the architect's copyright on the 17th century town hall-turned royal palace has long expired.

Copyright: Anatomy of a controversial report

The EU parliament's text on copyright has sailed through committee, but only after a long fight by its author, including on prejudice against her political colours.

German Pirate MEP kicks off EU copyright debate

The European Parliament is gearing up for what is expected to be a tough fight on reforming the EU's fragmented copyright rules. A German Pirate MEP is leading the way.

EP adopts 'watered down' copyright report

MEPs have adopted keenly-awaited proposals they'd like to see in the commission’s forthcoming copyright reform, but they were roundly criticised by all sides.

Some EU states face delays in 5G preparation

National governments secured a one-year extension for publishing plans to make radio frequencies available for mobile communications - but some were nevertheless unable to meet the deadline.

News in Brief

  1. UK health minister tests positive for coronavirus
  2. Orban: coronavirus exposes EU 'weaknesses'
  3. Court orders Netherlands to pay colonial victims
  4. Belgian cat 'infected by coronavirus'
  5. UK PM Johnson tests positive for coronavirus
  6. EU agrees Libya naval mission after Greek solution
  7. US to upgrade its nuclear bombs in Europe
  8. US surpasses China and Italy with 82,404 corona cases

Are EU data watchdogs staffed for GDPR?

The success of the new general data protection regulation (GDPR) will depend on whether data protection authorities enforce the new rules - which, in turn, will be at least partly determined by how many people they employ.

Eight countries to miss EU data protection deadline

The EU starts enforcing its general data protection regulation on 25 May - but Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Lithuania and Slovenia won't be ready. The delay will cause legal uncertainty.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAMaking Europe’s Economy Circular – the time is now
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersScottish parliament seeks closer collaboration with the Nordic Council
  3. UNESDAFrom Linear to Circular – check out UNESDA's new blog
  4. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms

Latest News

  1. EU doctors: bring refugees on Greek islands to safety
  2. Russia's top coronavirus 'fake news' stories
  3. WHO warning on lockdown mental health
  4. Virus: Frontex tells officers to keep guarding Greek borders
  5. EU heads struggle to find joint virus response
  6. Poland's sham presidential election in a pandemic
  7. Von der Leyen warns 'end selfishness' in virus crisis
  8. Chinese ambassador to EU: put trust before politics

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us