EU Copyright Reform Looking At Restricting Outdoor Photography

More potential copyright insanity from the European Union. Some positive moves have been made, but they often seem to be offset by extremely awful ideas. Photographing public structures could soon become copyright infringement. At this point, there’s no unified “freedom of panorama” across European countries. Some recognize this as a right inherent to citizens. Others feel any photographic reproductions of structures in public spaces are a violation of the creators’ rights. (via Boing Boing)

A more logical approach to unification was proposed first in a copyright reform report written by Pirate Party representative Julia Reda.

The [copyright reform] report had originally suggested that the current disparity in laws on freedom of panorama across Europe (see map) be harmonised by proposing a unified standard allowing images of works that are permanently located in public places.

Perhaps feeling that anyone who self-identifies as a “pirate” is likely untrustworthy, the EU Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee has rewritten this proposal, going in the opposite direction.

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

Instead of defaulting for the more logical assessment that only very limited protections can be extended to buildings and other structures fully visible to the public and erected in publicly-accessible areas, the Committee has extended “permission culture” to include objects not normally considered to be inaccessible to the public by camera/drawing/etc. because they’re accessible to the public in all other respects.

Rather than allowing people to take and publish their own photographs of buildings and monuments in public places—as celebrated in the annual Wiki Loves Monuments campaign, as well as many many books with author-supplied photographs—full permissions, clearances, royalties, and/or use of authorised images would be required for videos, photographs, paintings or drawings with any potential commercial use. (Wikipedia does not accept images unless they can be re-used for any purpose.)

This would end a long-standing tradition in many countries that the skyline and the public scene should belong to everybody; in the UK and Ireland, for example, this goes all the way back to the Copyright Act 1911, [which first set down copyright exceptions in statute law, and is currently reflected in section 62 of the UK Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988, and section 93 of the Irish Copyright and Related Rights Act 2000.

The status of existing books published without such clearances would become unclear; most Wikipedia images depicting public art would be lost; and it would become very much more difficult and more expensive to publish future books comprehensively illustrating architecture and public art (or even artists’ sketchbooks depicting them).

You can already see the effects of the legal disparity in regards to the “right of panorama” in effect at Wikipedia. Its page for the Atomium, a structure created by André Waterkeyn for the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels, contains a censored image, thanks to Belgium’s copyright laws.

Waterkeyn’s family, aided by royalty collection agency SABAM, has pursued “unauthorized” photographs of the outdoor structure. Despite its actions, there are plenty of images of the Atomium floating around the internet. But you won’t find one on its Wikipedia page. The next commercial use of depictions of this outdoor structure won’t be happening until 2076, if EU’s copyright laws aren’t unified into something less completely ridiculous.

It’s not just limited to Europe, although that’s where the next battle is taking place. This same sort of copyright overreach can be witnessed in photos submitted to Wikimedia Commons which have been edited due to complaints from entities residing in countries without “freedom of panorama” protections. More requests for deletion/editing are cataloged here.

It will be about three months before the EU begins debating the proposed copyright reforms. Those living in the countries possibly affected by a “unified” ruling in favor of this clause are encouraged to contact their representatives.

If you’re an EU citizen, for maximum impact please contact each of your local MEPs and ask them to communicate your concern to the MEP responsible for co-ordinating their group position on the matter—in the UK, for example, this would be Sajjad Karim (on-side?) for the Conservatives, or Mary Honeyball (wobbly?) for Labour—and ask them to ask the coordinating MEP to confirm that the group will be seeking to remove this clause as it currently stands from the report, and defend the full right to make use of photographs taken in public places, in this case the existing UK law. In this way you’ll get the chance to learn what the group’s detailed current position is (which you may then find you need to work to persuade your own MEP away from). The coordinating MEP will also thus be made aware of the full range of concerns being expressed to the group, and may be more likely to answer a request forwarded by a fellow MEP than a direct approach.

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