The City Of [Copyrighted] Lights: EU Regulations Reportedly Bar Photos Of The Eiffel Tower At Night As Copyright Protected

DSC_0078_2We have been discussing the ever-expanding copyright and trademarks claims on what seems every object and observation in modern life, including such things as pictures taken of public scenes in London and in New York. Now one of the most iconic public images is being claimed as protected: the Eiffel Tower at night. Under EU law, the tower light display constitutes an “art work” and is therefore copyrighted. Thus, you can take a picture during the day but at night the copyright lawyers come out and roam the streets to see if you are taking pictures of the lights of the city of the “City of Lights.” (To show my innate sense of legality, I took this cunning picture just before the lights came on at dusk in Paris a few years ago. Ha!)

According to various news sites, the Société d’Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel, the organization that manages the tower, notes this on its website:

“Daytime views from the Eiffel Tower are rights-free. However, its various illuminations are subject to author’s rights as well as brand rights. Usage of these images is subject to prior request from the Société d’Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel.”

It is reminiscent of the English decision finding that taking photographs of London icons are also violations. In Hungary, the government has made it a crime to take anyone’s picture in public without their consent.

I have long been a critic of growing copyright and trademark claims over things occurring in public or common phrases or terms. (For a prior column, click here). We have often discussed the abusive expansion of copyright and trademark laws. This includes common phrases, symbols, and images being claimed as private property. (here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here). This included recently a New York artist claiming that he holds the trademark to symbol π. —pi followed by a period—a design.

The EU has long been accused of bizarre little regulations that have exploded under the multinational bureaucracy. Under the EU’s 2001 information society directive, tourists could be fined for taking pictures of the Eiffel Tower at night and sharing them on Facebook, Twitter, or online.

The copyright and trademark laws are now threatening to achieve the inverse of their original purpose: to stifle rather than encourage creative work. While employing an army of lawyers who spend their days threatening people with lawsuit and securing coerced settlements, the negative effects of such ownership claims are obvious. When this claim was first published, I was convinced that it was something from The Onion. However, in today’s copyright and trademark systems, the absurd is now considered the normal.

27 thoughts on “The City Of [Copyrighted] Lights: EU Regulations Reportedly Bar Photos Of The Eiffel Tower At Night As Copyright Protected”

  1. Has every government in this world gone crazy? I thought it was just us. There are lots of photos of the Eiffel Tower on Pinterest. They are probably professional because they are gorgeous.

  2. My first reaction was the same as most people’s here, but having thought about it some more I’m not outraged at all by this. In fact, I think it’s probably a good thing.

    First of all, this copyright claim is only going to be enforced against the commercial use of E.T. images. It would cost far more than it’s worth to chase down every tourist with a camera. Presumably, it’s in the interests of the owners of the copyright to collect a mutually agreeable fee for the commercial use of the image rather than to simply prohibit its use.

    Second, there are significant costs involved in lighting the E.T. If businesses are selling photographs of that image, they are using the lighting as a productive input. Why shouldn’t they be required to defray a part of the cost of this productive input?

    Finally, allowing the owners of beautiful structures to capture some of the benefits people enjoy from viewing those structures provides an extra incentive for considering the esthetic impact of what one builds.

  3. When is it going to be made illegal to own a photographic device? You can’t take photographs of your children, public sites, private property, or the police seeing to citizens welfare and protection. Photographing anything is either illegal or someone has hung a price tag on it. I have a photo of clouds on my ipad, pebbledash pattern, not suggesting anything obscene. I also once took a video of my husband wiggling his toes. Are these still legal or do I have to get written permission, apply for a licence, or pay a fee for making a self-generated product?

Comments are closed.