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Three weeks to save freedom of panorama in Europe

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By Jheald
The London Eye, blacked out to show the effect of removing section 62 of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988, which allows the photography of buildings in the UK

Amended report due for final vote on 9 July

The Angel of the North, Gateshead
Current scope of freedom of panorama in Europe.
  OK, including works of art
  OK for buildings only
  OK for non-commercial use only
  Not OK
The committee text would turn the map red or yellow for all EU countries.
Statue of Paddington Bear at Paddington Station
Statue in a public square at Paddington Basin
Statue of the Little Mermaid (Copenhagen): no FoP in Denmark.

On 16 June, the Legal Affairs Committee of the European Parliament adopted an amendment to a report on copyright reform prepared by Pirate Party MEP Julia Reda (addition in italics). Under the committee's text, the parliament

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;

This amended text is now due to be voted on by the full European Parliament when it considers the full text of the Reda report in its plenary session on 9 July.

The 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.

However by a roughly three-to-one margin, the committee instead adopted the text above by French MEP Jean-Marie Cavada that commercial use of such images should universally not be permitted, except by express permission of the copyright holder.

Authorisation required

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,[1] 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,[2] and section 93 of the Irish Copyright and Related Rights Act 2000.[3] (See c:Commons:Freedom of panorama for other countries).

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).

What can be done

Although freedom of panorama was heavily voted down in the Legal Affairs Committee, the majority of EU countries do permit full use of photography taken in public places; furthermore, the MEPs on the Internal Market Committee, which had an advisory role to the Legal Affairs Committee in the matter, had earlier recommended that such photography should be allowed across the EU.

There is therefore every possibility that the clause adopted on Tuesday may be overturned in the full vote of the Parliament on 9 July—if enough individual MEPs can be persuaded to go against the Legal Affairs Committee's current text; so in the next three weeks, every letter or communication from concerned people received by an MEP will count.

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.

As with any communication of this kind, it makes all the difference if you can make your letter personal. Why does it mean something personally to you to be able to take a photograph of a public place, and do with it as you wish? For example, is there such a photograph you have taken that has a particular significance to you? Has it been reused in a commercial context? Or have you done research for which it has made all the difference to find comprehensively illustrated material in a library, a bookshop, or on the internet? The more you can talk about your personal experience and why this matters to you, to make your letter different from anybody else's, the more impact you will have. It is particularly important to communicate to MEPs why non-commercial use only is not enough.

How to be heard

MEPs receive a lot of email—in particular, they have recently been getting very heavy email about the current EU–US trade negotiations (TTIP). Unfortunately, not all MEPS answer all of the emails they receive. You can improve the chances of getting an answer by also sending a hard copy of your letter to Brussels by post—these are harder to ignore.

It's usually most effective and simplest to make a phone call to your MEP's office (free of charge) as a first thing, or when you wrote them and you've not received at least a holding response within a week.

Whatever final answer you do receive, please respond and follow up to the MEP—either to thank the MEP if you like what you have heard back, or to politely make very clear to the MEP why you are unhappy with the response.

Helping build a wider campaign

The campaign to defend photography of public places will not be won if it is seen as just Wikipedia campaigning for something that will benefit Wikipedia. The public space is something that everybody should be able to share and to enjoy and to celebrate (or castigate). The broader we can make this campaign, the more different voices we can bring to the table, the more likely it is to succeed.

So, as well as writing yourself, please think of others who might have an interest, and let them know and encourage them to declare a position—professional bodies, trade unions, local history groups, civic groups, artists, architects, writers, publishers, journalists, academics, celebrities—anyone who cares about the environment around them and being able to read or talk about it. Anyone you can think of who has a voice, please encourage them to speak out, before July 9. Wikimedia affiliates will be trying to reach out to other organisations; but it may be that much can be done more effectively by motivated individuals at a grass-roots level. Central resources may be very limited.

A central space for campaign ideas, resources and discussion is under construction at c:Commons:Freedom of Panorama 2015. Please sign up if you have ideas or can help in any way, and help to gather together a library of contacts made, letters sent and responses received.


Julia Reda
Jean-Marie Cavada

The new European Commission, appointed in 2014, has announced that one of its priorities will be to improve the "digital single market", including an update to Europe's copyright laws, and in particular the 2001 Copyright Directive (also sometimes called the "InfoSoc directive"), which includes a menu of allowed copyright exceptions that member states have adopted in a pick-and-choose way, leaving European copyright law as an inconsistent patchwork.

The European Parliament announced it would produce its own report on the current legislation, with recommendations. This is the report for which the committee draft was finalised in the vote on Tuesday. The chance to be responsible for writing the report was grabbed with both hands by Julia Reda, the only MEP for the Pirate Party. Reda essentially proposed that anything that is even remotely possible to liberalise should be liberalised, including a reduction of the copyright term from life + 70 years to life + 50 years. Reda has proved a formidable communicator, as demonstrated by her website on the report; but the news of her appointment and her initial proposals triggered a mighty backlash, led in particular by French MEPs and the French government, which seemed to take it almost as a personal assault.

Reda was able to achieve negotiated compromises with the rest of the committee on most of the clauses of her report; this has led to a result that she hailed as a turning point in the copyright debate, but which has been criticised by some as watered-down, equivocal, and no longer ambitious.[4]

Lobbying against a fully commercial exception for freedom of panorama has been pushed for by publishers' lobbyists, who have been promoting greater use of licensing across the board rather than copyright exceptions; and by collecting societies, promoting the view that there should be no reuse of copyright works without remuneration, and apparently seeing the right of public photography as the thin end of the wedge despite the interests of publishers and authors who currently rely on it. Representatives of some photographic libraries in countries without freedom of panorama have also weighed in, fearing the erosion of exclusive deals some of their members may have. In addition, there has been a general antipathy among many MEPs directed against internet services such as Google (but also companies such as Amazon and Apple and various streaming services), perceived as making huge profits as intermediaries at the expense of European creators on the breadline.

On the basis of these arguments, a number of Legal Affairs Committee MEPs (including from countries such as the UK that currently have full freedom of panorama) initially submitted amendments calling for public-space photography to be permitted but limited to non-commercial use only.

In subsequent discussions, it was believed that progress was afoot towards a compromise amendment that would have dropped the non-commercial condition. But these hopes were dashed following fiery speeches from French MEP Cavada and a Greek socialist MEP —both from countries without a tradition of freedom of panorama—in which they denounced the iniquity of others making money out of artists' works without compensation (even if, in reality, the image rights from public art really are the "gleanings from the field"—utterly marginal to the creators of new buildings and new art, but of immense value to the ability to publicly depict and discuss the work).

In the face of these objections, the group coordinators for both the centre-right EPP group and the centre-left S&D group dropped out of the compromise negotiations with Reda, in the interests of holding consistent internal group lines together across the committee. "The differences between the parties were too great". In the event, the committee adopted an even stronger amendment against freedom of panorama than some had originally pushed for, not just prohibiting unauthorised commercial use, but no longer even expressly permitting any non-commercial use. Indeed, the view of many MEPs towards unconditional reuse may be reflected in the wording of one amendment, which only narrowly failed, that called on the Commission "to prevent the parasitic development of new commercial interests at the expense of authors and their rights".[5]

The Reda report now goes on to a vote by the full parliament on Thursday 9 July. While formally an "own initiative" (INI) report by the parliament, and not directly legislative, it is expected to be influential in shaping the European Commission's actual legislative proposal on copyright reform, expected in September, by indicating what the Parliament is or is not expected to find acceptable. As Reda herself puts it: "It's not legally binding, so it's only as important as people think it is. And people think this report is extremely important, everybody is completely agitated about this. ... They [the rightsholders and publishers] have given this report the weight in the public eye by going completely crazy about it."[6]


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Hellas has freedom of panorama at least since 1995!

This map is factually wrong, Hellas should be green like the UK, there is full freedom of panorama in Hellas, there are no restrictions in what or who you can photograph in public and no restrictions in publishing or selling the resulting photos or videos for any non-commercial use (editorial/journalistic or artistic). Joxi Szriasztista (talk) 20:50, 20 June 2015 (UTC)[reply]

If you mean Greece, then you are wrong, because as you say yourself, there are non-commercial restrictions. Which, among others, mean that Wikipedia cannot use those pictures. Limited freedom is not freedom. Also see commons:Commons:Freedom_of_panorama#Greece. --Piotr Konieczny aka Prokonsul Piotrus| reply here 02:35, 21 June 2015 (UTC)[reply]
Then it should be yellow on the map, not red.-- (talk) 10:41, 21 June 2015 (UTC)[reply]
Seems legit. WP:SOFIXIT - I suggest you contact the image authors and see what they say. Or just upload your own version. --Piotr Konieczny aka Prokonsul Piotrus| reply here 02:32, 22 June 2015 (UTC)[reply]

I've just written about this

Borrowing heavily from this article, I've just written about this on Medium: "Freedom of Panorama is under attack". UK residents can contact their MEPs for free really easily through WriteToThem (a site I helped set up): It's not quite so easy for other EU citizens, but the Parliament's MEP search engine does provide email addresses for MEPs. — OwenBlacker (Talk) 11:31, 21 June 2015 (UTC)[reply]

Nice article! --Piotr Konieczny aka Prokonsul Piotrus| reply here 02:32, 22 June 2015 (UTC)[reply]
@OwenBlacker: Thanks for the article - just a remark: I think the text "lighter green countries protecting only images of buildings" in the FOP map caption may be misleading resp. depend upon the interpretation of "protecting" - what the lighter green colour in the map means is that these countries have freedom of panorama for buildings only (not for other works of art in public spaces). So they're not "protecting" the images of buildings in the sense of granting protection to the building's copyright owner. You probably meant that they're "protecting" the building images from copyright claims, but, well... maybe it could be phrased differently? Gestumblindi (talk) 19:15, 23 June 2015 (UTC)[reply]
@Piotrus: Thank you!
@Gestumblindi: Ah, thank you. I've amended the caption to clarify that.
OwenBlacker (Talk) 21:55, 23 June 2015 (UTC)[reply]

How about organizing a wikipedia-wide demo/protest?

Idea: Use images with blank-out, king of used in this signpost article, in high-visible wikipedia articles, such as appearing on the Main page or pages with high traffic. This will bring much wider attention than Signpost. Staszek Lem (talk) 02:03, 22 June 2015 (UTC)[reply]

@Staszek Lem: This is being discussed at commons:Commons:Freedom_of_Panorama_2015. --Piotr Konieczny aka Prokonsul Piotrus| reply here 02:32, 22 June 2015 (UTC)[reply]
The German-language Wikipedia shows a black banner since today: de:Wikipedia:Hauptseite. --Túrelio (talk) 10:57, 25 June 2015 (UTC)[reply]

Further discussion

Further discussion is at:

There are also discussions on the various Wikipedia language versions of languages spoken in Europe. Romaine (talk) 04:49, 23 June 2015 (UTC)[reply]

In German-language Wikipedia (German-speaking countries currently have freedom of panorama), there's currently a lot of activity regarding this matter, including a survey on possible actions to make the public aware of the issue (e.g. blacking out images, banners), and an open letter to the MEPs, already signed by 377 community members. Gestumblindi (talk) 19:02, 23 June 2015 (UTC)[reply]
Currently, there are 740 signatories, and the number is steadily growing. I can't really remember any kind of Wikimedia-related open letter or a similar thing with that many supporters - and it's not even on English Wikipedia... Gestumblindi (talk) 19:57, 24 June 2015 (UTC)[reply]
The MediaViewer letter penned to the WMF drew over a thousand signatures. ResMar 01:13, 25 June 2015 (UTC)[reply]
Well, the freedom of panorama letter is now at 862; I think it will also reach more than thousand :-) Gestumblindi (talk) 10:37, 25 June 2015 (UTC)[reply]
Now at 1580 :-) Gestumblindi (talk) 20:50, 25 June 2015 (UTC)[reply]
There are now nearly 3000 signatories altogether - split into daily subpages to reduce page size; 1663 in total at de:Wikipedia:Offener Brief an die Mitglieder des Europäischen Parlaments zur Erhaltung der Panoramafreiheit/23. Juni 2015, de:Wikipedia:Offener Brief an die Mitglieder des Europäischen Parlaments zur Erhaltung der Panoramafreiheit/24. Juni 2015 and de:Wikipedia:Offener Brief an die Mitglieder des Europäischen Parlaments zur Erhaltung der Panoramafreiheit/25. Juni 2015, and additionally 1310 at the main letter page. However, as the banner deployed in German Wikipedia now contains a large button linking to the letter, and is displayed to all users (also those not signed in), the letter has somewhat changed its focus, which I'm not sure is a good idea: It was originally presented as a letter by "authors of German-language Wikipedia" and is still undersigned with that phrasing, but due to the banner's appeal to the general public, it contains now lots of signatures by people who aren't Wikipedians. That's a bit misleading, I think - of course, there's nothing to say against a letter by the general public, by Wikipedia readers, but these kinds of open letters should be clearly separate. I'll post on the discussion page ther regarding this matter. Gestumblindi (talk) 17:52, 26 June 2015 (UTC)[reply]
There is a Petition to European Parlament "Save the Freedom of Photography!" on, but cannot be linked due to blacklisting of --Túrelio (talk) 19:35, 24 June 2015 (UTC)[reply]

Consider the effects on local communities and regions when talking to parliamentarians

MEPs have to consider the best interests of Europe as well as of their countries and regions of origin when making decisions. Tourism is an important and increasing part of the economy in most European regions. And in the international competition for visitors, images and videos are the most important tools available. Just look around to see what kind of imagery airlines, hotels, tour organizers and others in the tourism and conferencing sector tend to use. Photos and drawings of famous structures are everywhere. The official tourism boards of cities and regions—as well as large corporations—might be able to take the time and effort to contact every copyright holder to get permission, but for small and medium-sized businesses, it will be easier to just drop the use of photos of anything but really old buildings. This will be bad for the overall marketing of the cities and regions that the MEPs represent. And it is worth noting that many small tourism-oriented business use precisely Wikipedia as a source of information and images to use when promoting their local surroundings.--OttoG (talk) 12:47, 2 July 2015 (UTC)[reply]

Why couldn't I photograph the landscape ?

Then should we promote the destruction of the public buildings that prevent us from freely taking photographs of the landscape ? The Millau Viaduct is an example of this, if I want to take a photo there, this thing in the middle is preventing me from doing so. Sometimes laws become really stupid! Or maybe we have to post-process the photos and replace the buildings with the faces of the people voting these laws. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 14:59, 4 July 2015 (UTC)[reply]

It's not just public buildings! It's *any* buildings still under copyright. If your photo of a landscape includes just one house whose architect's heir's copyright agent has not granted you a license, you are in trouble. For example that concrete building behind the London Eye in the first example photo is probably also under copyright by a different legal entity. Jbohmdk (talk) 22:40, 4 July 2015 (UTC)[reply]

Historical note on how the non-freedom of Panorama for sculptures is real in Denmark

A few years ago, copyright holders of the little mermaid statue (omitted in picture above), sued a porn publisher who used a photo of it on the cover of one of their movies. The family of the sculptor routinely collects royalties etc. from 3D copies of the statue, but I have heard of no other case where they sued over 2D pictures. Jbohmdk (talk) 22:40, 4 July 2015 (UTC)[reply]

AFAIK, the family routinely collects royalties from newspapers and other publishers that publish photos of the sculpture, see "Den lille havfrue" section on the "ophavsret" article in the Danish Wikipedia and links. Note that there are FoP in Denmark wrt. to buildings. There is also FoP for "non-building" works of art when the object is not the main motive and it is not use commercially. — fnielsen (talk) 17:16, 7 July 2015 (UTC)[reply]

Voting: outcomes

Today the European Parliament voted about the copyright report, including the subject Freedom of Panorama.

  • The negative text by Cavada (Freedom of Panorama only non-commercial in whole EU) was dropped by 502 to 40.
  • The positive text by Schaake (full Freedom of Panorama in whole EU) didn't pass by 228 to 303.
  • The report as a whole was accepted with 445 to 65 with 32 abstentions.

Thanks everyone, we almost manage to achieve a full swing, which is a very tough feat to get done in 3 weeks.

What is next?
Autumn 2015: European Commission planned proposal on a renewed EU Directive.

Romaine (talk) 14:29, 9 July 2015 (UTC)[reply]

@Romaine, thanks—I was looking for numbers on the Schaake amendment vote. Can you link your source? – czar 02:29, 10 July 2015 (UTC)[reply]
@Czar, sorry for the delay, there was a vacation/conference in between.
The voting was about the Implementation of Directive 2001/29/EC on the harmonisation of certain aspects of copyright and related rights in the information society. The text what the European Parliament voted about is A8-0209/2015 (pdf). There you see it is paragraph 46 which is about Freedom of Panorama.
The results can be found on the website of the European Parliament via this page in this document. Go in the document to section 9: Harmonisation of certain aspects of copyright and related rights. It is § 46. There you see the original text was rejected: 40 for, 502 against, 12 abstentions.
The line above is amendment 3: The page A8-0209/2015 shows on top the various amendments. Amendment 3 is from Schaake (pdf). The Schaake amendment got 228 for, 303 against and 24 abstentions.
Romaine (talk) 15:12, 22 July 2015 (UTC)[reply]

Corporate endings

  • If I were commissioned to put a work of art in a public place affected by these laws, not only would I have the power to charge money for the visibility of my work, but to restrict the visibility of the surrounding environment. If I were really clever, I could join a society of artists with the power to manipulate the production of media for the sakes of political bias. Of course, that situation would only achieve the height of its effectiveness when all the public works of art had been bought out by corporations. Doesn't sound likely at first, but this freedom of panorama thing is only starting, whereas corporate power acting just like that... ~ R.T.G 08:29, 6 November 2019 (UTC)[reply]


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