Lawyers call plans to tighten copyrights rules for photographs of public buildings ‘absurd’

Charles Swan
Charles Swan

Lawyers have criticised as “absurd” plans proposed in the European Union which would see photographers punished for breach of copyright if they sell or publish images of building or artworks under copyright.

In the UK, “freedom of panorama”, an exemption within copyright law, means people can take photos of buildings or public works of art and use them personally or commercially.

Other countries including Germany and Spain also enjoy this freedom but France and Belgium do not.

In France, people can photograph the Eiffel Tower during the day but not at night because its lighting array is a modern installation and is under copyright.

A proposed reform would see such restrictions being brought into the UK for commercial use.

The law would mainly affect professional photographers who sell photos used in postcards, websites and elsewhere but lawyers have warned there is a “grey area” which could affect personal images uploaded to Facebook, websites or blogs that have a commercial purpose or bring in advertising revenue.

Charles Swan, an intellectual property lawyer and a director of the Association of Photographers said the proposal was “absurd” as well as “a complete invasion of our freedom of expression”.

He added: “Why on earth shouldn’t you take pictures of the landscape or skyline and do what you want with them?

“It would be fairly disastrous and most of the British public, not just photographers, would think this was pretty horrific. The only people it would be good news for might be architects.”

However, the Royal Institute of British Architects opposes any change in the law, a spokesman said: “We are concerned that the well-intentioned proposals to ensure that architects are paid for the use of images of their work by commercial publishers and broadcasters would instead have negative implications, and represent a potentially damaging restriction of the debate about architecture and public space.”

Copyright lawyer, Nick Philips, of Edwin Coe, said: “It would be very confusing. If you’re just taking a holiday snap of the Angel of the North, that’s going to be non-commercial and so will be fine, but it becomes a grey area if, say, Facebook’s terms and conditions give Facebook a licence to use your photograph for any purposes they like.”