We 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.