Freedom Of Panorama And The Future Of Street Photography In The EU

Freedom Of Panorama And The Future Of Street Photography

Freedom of Panorama gives photographers the right to take pictures in public spaces, even if you incidentally capture copyrighted works, from Chicago’s Cloud Gate (think mirror bean) to images on t-shirts and billboards. On July 9, the EU may vote to abolish it and force street photographers to seek permission from copyright holders for virtually every element in the frame. Hit the jump for more info.

Freedom Of Panorama And The Future Of Street Photography

london eye redacted
London Eye Redacted – Image By Kham Tran, CC BY-SA

On 9 July 2015, the European Parliament may vote to abolish the right to freely take and share photographs, videos and drawings of buildings and works of public art. The current EU Copyright Directive (2001) allows member states to create such an exception within their copyright laws but does not require it. German Pirate MEP Julia Reda’s copyright report recommends member-states be required to enshrine this freedom in their national laws but a proposed ammendment to this report would abolish Freedom of Panorama outright.

The end result of all the legal wrangling could force photographers to get permission and pay royalties for any copyrighted works that are captured in the background of the frame. Everything from building facades to characters on t-shirts would need to be accounted for. In short, street photographers would be held hostage by the copyright holders whose ubiquitous work appears like litter in every corner of public life.

UK residents can contact their MEPs through WriteToThem, where you just have to enter your postcode to get a list of them. Other countries’ residents will have to go through the European Parliament’s site, but there are email addresses on the Parliament’s MEP search engine, which allows you to narrow things down by parliamentary constituency; and Wikipedia has a page listing MEPs by country, translated into some of the other EU languages if you hit the links along the left-hand side.

It should be noted that the freedom of panorama debate is not limited to the EU. In the United States freedom of panorama covers building facades but does not extend to works of art. So you can shoot the doors, but not the gargoyles.

StreetShootr’s Take

Forcing photographers to get permission and pay royalties for anything that incidentally appears in the background of an image will not generate and significant income for the copyright holders. Furhtermore an architect, for example, has designed his/her work with full knowledge that it will be part of the public space and almost implicitely agrees to have it depicted as such.

This move to abolish freedom of panorama rights sounds like something driven by a copyright lobby rather than common sense. It’s another curious example of the erosion of photographers rights and a dangerous precedent hangs in the balance. Let’s hope the European Parliament votes in the right way on this one.

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