The freedom of panorama and the European Union

The freedom of panorama and the European Union

Let me start this by telling you it doesn’t happen very often that I am posting something that is, to a certain degree, political somewhere; so this post will pretty much be become an exception to the rule, because if a proposal for a copyright law is accepted and implemented in its current form, then it will have a major impact on what type of photos I will be able to show you on my website and on Facebook.
Of course this affects not only me and Lille Ulven Photography, but every photographer — professionals as much as hobby photographers — who will then travel to countries that are members of the European Union or the EEA.

What is the “freedom of panorama”?

The freedom of panorama means that you are allowed to take photos of man made structures displayed in public — buildings as well as statues or other permanent art installations — and publish these without the written permission of the creator of that structure, as long as you are taking the photo from a public place.
So for example, you can take a photo of a museum building and — as long as you take it from the nearby street — no one can prevent you from publishing it for commercial purposes; yet, if you took the photo from the museum’s property they could restrict your right of commercial usage. You could take a photo of a public-displayed statue from the street and no one could stop you legally from using this photo commercially; yet if you took a photo from a statue inside a museum, the museum has the right to tell you that you cannot use this in a commercial way.

Where does commercial usage start?

Many of the hobby photographers might want to lean back now, saying that they don’t sell their photos, so they don’t use them commercially…well you might just have been a little bit too fast with that one.
Commercial usage actually starts way before selling the photo to someone else. Commercial usage actually starts when you post your photo on online services such as Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and Instagram, to name a few. This is because when you signed their contract by creating a user profile with them you also allowed them to use your photo for their commercial purposes.
Or maybe you would like to sell some of your photos of your hometown as greeting cards on a fair or Christmas Market — this would be commercial usage as well.
So it is not only when you sell your photos to stock agencies or on your own website or wherever else, it starts way before that.

What has the European Union to do with all this?

Well the parliament of the European Union had the wise idea to unify the copyright over the entire European Union.
As of today (June 27th 2015) some countries of the EU have laws for full panorama freedom, as for example Germany, Sweden, Spain and Portugal. Some countries have panorama freedom only for buildings but not for works of art such as Denmark and Norway. Some have it only for non-commercial use, such as Iceland, Lithuania and Latvia. And a few have no panorama freedom at all, as for example France, Italy and Greece.
So unifying this sounds like a great idea to start with…unfortunately the members of the European Parliament could not agree on a full panorama freedom, as some countries that do not have it do not want to implement it in the future either.
So the current proposal is that no panorama freedom should be granted in the European Union unless the creator of the artwork / building has died at least 70 years earlier (which is when the copyright would be removed from the artwork / building).

This means that if this proposal is turned into a law, that I would no longer be allowed to share for example the following photos with you:


Photographing the sunrise over the Opera building in Oslo. In the foreground the Grace, a Dutch research vessel for oceanographic research.
Photographing the sunrise over the Opera building in Oslo.

The Oslo Opera, finished in 2005…I am not even certain if I would need the written permit of the City of Oslo or of the architectural bureau Snøhetta that stood for the building. Not to mention of every other house in the photo.


Boathouses in Vik

Boat houses in Vik — to be allowed to post these I would have to get the written permit signed by every owner of these houses.


Bergen as seen from Mount Fløyen

Bergen as seen from Mount Fløyen — again I would have to get the written permit signed by every single owner of the houses in this photo.


Schottland 2010Ullapool - Carbisdale
Wooden art in Scotland

A nice piece of wooden art — but I would not be allowed to share this with you.

I don’t live in the EU, so I don’t care

Not quite. No matter where you are from, if you take photos in an EU or EEA country you have to obey its laws regarding the copyright — the same way as photographers from the EU / EEA have to in your country.
So if you want to share photos from visiting the Opera of Norway or the London Eye or other man-made structures with your friends and family at home via Facebook or other online services — you are affected if this new law comes into place.

What is the timeline?

The proposal is due at July 9th 2015. This is the day when it will be sent from the EU-Parliament to the EU-Commission. But it won’t become a law immediately after this. The commission would sent their notes back to the parliament and the current timeline says that the law should be in place by September 2015.
So there is a little time left to act and prevent this from happening.
The probably best outcome would be if the proposal in its current form — cutting off the panorama freedom completely — would never be send to the EU-commission.

You can help reach this goal in two ways:

  1. Sign a petition like this one: European Parliament Save the freedom of photography which you can sign even if you do not live in a EU or EEA country.
  2. If you do live in a EU country you can write to your member of parliament and tell them how you feel about this change.

So please act on this, if you want to see photos like the above and / or want to take such photos in the future and share them with friends and family or even sell them.

Update … the results of the vote

Most of you will most likely have read or heard about these results some days ago…Unfortunately I haven’t been able to update this post before now.
But at least now I can tell you some good news about it!

502 out of 542 Members of the European Parliament (MPs) have voted against the restriction of the copyright that I described in this post. The other 40 MPs voted to restrict the copyright as described.

This means, thankfully, that in those countries of the EU and EEA where you had panoramic freedom before July 7th 2015, you will also have it in the future – as long as no other similar changes in the copyright law are passed at least.
So in the I will be allowed to show you the photos in this post and similar ones in the future as well, I – and every other photographer – will be allowed to make and sell my own calendars with photos of public buildings or other man-made structures or post those photos on sites like Facebook or 500px to name just a very few.

But for the EU countries that did not have panoramic freedom before July 7th 2015 this means…they still don’t have it. So if you were to take a photo for example of the Eiffel Tower in Paris (France) at night with the light-installation…well you could print it and have it in your own scrapbook. Since France does not have the full panoramic freedom but rather restrictive rules, you are still not allowed to share these kind of photos on commercial sites.

If you want to read more about the vote here is a link to an article about it: A German pirate just saved our right to take public selfies (Wired UK)

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