Tuesday

22nd Aug 2017

Belgian and French copyright laws ban photos of EP buildings

An obscure clause in EU copyright rules means no one can publish photos of public buildings in Belgium, like the Atomium, or France’s Eiffel tower at night without first asking permission from the rights owners.

The optional rule extends to the buildings of the European Parliament in Brussels and in Strasbourg.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now and get 40% off for an annual subscription. Sale ends soon.

  1. €90 per year. Use discount code EUOBS40%
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Belgian laws prohibit publishing photos of its landmark monument without first asking for permission (Photo: Nro92 + Romaine)

“Every website of every MEP that uses [an image of] the parliament building on it is a copyright infringement in the sense of the law,” said Dimitar Dimitrov, a so-called Wikimedian or policy expert for the European Wikimedia chapters in Brussels, on Tuesday (4 November).

The EU’s 2001 information society directive contains a clause that says photos of architectural projects in public spaces can be taken free of charge. Experts describe it as a freedom of panorama, after the term used in German copyright law, Panoramafreiheit.

But the clause is optional. France, Belgium and Italy decided not to transpose it into national law.

“If you take an image of the Atomium and put it on Facebook, that is copyright infringement,” said Dimitrov.

The Atomium website notes “any use of the image of the Atomium must be submitted to the organisation before it is published.”

Only people who take photos for non-promotional uses on “private websites” do not need to ask.

The Atomium picture on Wikipedia's page is a photo of a model built in Austria. Elsewhere, the monument is simply blackened out to respect Belgian rules.

In France, the issue is further complicated.

People can now take photos of the Eiffel tower during the day but not at night. This is because the architect has been dead so long that the copyright rules no longer apply. But they have since installed lights.

“The lightshow is protected by copyright,” notes Dimitrov.

The rule changes from member state to member state.

In Bulgaria, Romania, and Slovenia, for instance, it is fine to take photos of public buildings so long as the images are not sold.

Elsewhere, like the UK, the Netherlands, and Germany, anyone can take photos of public buildings for any reason without risk.

Another oddity is that because the European Parliament does not own the copyright license of its buildings, it cannot legally grant permission for people to take photos of it.

Wikipedia, for instance, despite getting a written permission to use a photo of the Strasbourg assembly from the parliament’s secretariat earlier this year, was still unable to use it.

“We had it checked it with our lawyers and then it turns out that the parliament doesn’t own the right to its own buildings,” says Dimitrov.

The owner is a French architecture bureau, which only grants permission when photos are used for news purposes. One possible way around is to take a photo of the flags with the parliament building in the background.

The rule is seldom enforced and its fragmented nature, especially when put online, creates legal uncertainty and confusion for those who attempt to apply the laws in full.

“It’s only a problem if you follow the law,” says Dimitrov.

The confusion has long caught the attention of EU lawmakers.

Former EU digital agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes even had a minor twitter war over the summer with Atomium’s director.

For German Pirate Party MEP Julia Reda, the problem is that the freedom of panorama exception in the 2001 EU rulebook is not mandatory.

“A lot of member states have either not implemented it all or they have implemented it in a very restrictive ways,” she says.

The 2001 EU copyright laws are up for reform but debates and future public consultations means the EU commission won’t be expected to present a proposal any time soon.

A regulation or a directive?

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker requested that his new EU digital chief Gunther Oettinger put forward some ideas on the digital single market within the first six months of his mandate.

When asked if this includes copyright reform, the commission is vague, noting instead “copyright rules should be modernised, during the first part of this mandate”.

But Oettinger, speaking at a closed event at the German Bundestag committee on the Digital Agenda on Tuesday, is reported to have said he could envisage tabling a non-official draft within six months and did not rule out upgrading the directive into a much stronger regulation.

A commission spokesperson was cautious about Oettinger's statements and would be surprised if anything came out in six months but noted that the commissioner is open to the idea of both a directive and a regulation.

"Whatever he says at this stage are his personal ideas but not any formal position that the commission has taken," said the contact.

The spokesperson noted that an impact assessment report needs to determine whether or not a directive or regulation is needed.

The mixed message is causing concern for some who want the reforms to be tabled sooner rather than later.

A commission public consultation on copyright was already carried out earlier this year. It secured over 10,000 responses to 80 questions.

“The old commission made a long assessment of these replies and the way Oettinger sounds now is like this hasn’t happened yet,” said the German MEP.

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.

Interview

Screenwriters call for EU rights on royalties

Robert Alberdingk Thijm has written dozens of TV series, but hardly receives any royalties. He hopes to benefit from an upcoming review of EU copyright law.

Focus

Freedom to take photos divides MEPs

Freedom of panorama, which allows you to publish photos of copyrighted buildings, is "under threat", and Pirate MEP Reda is willing to sacrifice her report.

Focus

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.

News in Brief

  1. Austria has begun checks at Italian border
  2. Slovenian PM: Brexit talks will take longer than expected
  3. Merkel backs diesel while report warns of economic harm
  4. UK to publish new Brexit papers this week
  5. Macedonia sacks top prosecutor over wiretap scandal
  6. ECB concerned stronger euro could derail economic recovery
  7. Mixed Irish reactions to post-Brexit border proposal
  8. European Union returns to 2 percent growth

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressEuropean Governments Must Take Stronger Action Against Terrorism
  2. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceDoes Genetics Explain Why So Few of Us Have an Ideal Cardiovascular Health?
  3. EU2017EEFuture-Themed Digital Painting Competition Welcomes Artists - Deadline 31 Aug
  4. ACCABusinesses Must Grip Ethics and Trust in the Digital Age
  5. European Jewish CongressEJC Welcomes European Court of Justice's Decision to Keep Hamas on Terror List
  6. UNICEFReport: Children on the Move From Africa Do Not First Aim to Go to Europe
  7. Centre Maurits CoppietersWe Need Democratic and Transparent Free Trade Agreements Says MEP Jordi Solé
  8. Counter BalanceOut for Summer, Ep. 2: EIB Promoting Development in Egypt - At What Cost?
  9. EU2017EELocal Leaders Push for Local and Regional Targets to Address Climate Change
  10. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceMore Women Than Men Have Died From Heart Disease in Past 30 Years
  11. European Jewish CongressJean-Marie Le Pen Faces Trial for Oven Comments About Jewish Singer
  12. ACCAAnnounces Belt & Road Research at Shanghai Conference

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ECPAFood Waste in the Field Can Double Without Crop Protection. #WithOrWithout #Pesticides
  2. EU2017EEEstonia Allocates €1 Million to Alleviate Migratory Pressure From Libya in Italy
  3. Dialogue PlatformFethullah Gulen's Message on the Anniversary of the Coup Attempt in Turkey
  4. Martens CentreWeeding Out Fake News: An Approach to Social Media Regulation
  5. European Jewish CongressEJC Concerned by Normalisation of Antisemitic Tropes in Hungary
  6. Counter BalanceOut for Summer Ep. 1: How the EIB Sweeps a Development Fiasco Under the Rug
  7. CESICESI to Participate in Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee on Postal Services
  8. ILGA-EuropeMalta Keeps on Rocking: Marriage Equality on Its Way
  9. European Friends of ArmeniaEuFoA Director and MEPs Comment on the Recent Conflict Escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh
  10. EU2017EEEstonian Presidency Kicks off Youth Programme With Coding Summer School
  11. EPSUEP Support for Corporate Tax Transparency Principle Unlikely to Pass Reality Check
  12. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament Improves the External Investment Plan but Significant Challenges Ahead