Legal Eagles and a Church Steeple

May 10, 2019

The new Notre Dame Spire may be protected by copyright.

Though the spire’s exact design is yet to be determined, the Notre Dame cathedral will certainly be rebuilt. By the time it is, will posting selfies in front of the finished masterpiece be considered a copyright violation? Techdirt describes “Why Your Holiday Photos and Videos of the Restored Notre Dame Cathedral Could Be Blocked by the EU’s Upload Filters.” We’re told that EU copyright law lets countries decide whether to protect the copyrights on architecture, sculpture, and other artworks in public view, or to grant “freedom of panorama.” France chose the freedom, with one key exception—any images used commercially require permission. Reporter Glyn Moody writes:

“This is why pictures of the Eiffel Tower at night taken for commercial purposes require a license: although the copyright of the tower itself has expired, the copyright on the lights that were installed in 1989 has not. And it’s not just about the Eiffel Tower. As the credits at the end of this time-lapse video show (at 2 minutes 10 seconds) other famous Parisian landmarks that require copyright permission to film them include the Louvre’s Pyramid and the Grande Arche in the French capital’s business district. It is not clear whether taking photos or videos of these landmarks and then posting them online counts as commercial use. They may be for personal use, and thus exempt in themselves, but they are generally being posted to commercial Internet services like Facebook, which might require a license. That lack of clarity is just the sort of thing that is likely to cause the EU Copyright Directive’s upload filters to block images of modern buildings in France — including the re-built spire of Notre Dame cathedral, if it is a new design.”

Moody is very critical of the Copyright Directive, the legislation that harmonizes copyright law across the EU, as favoring corporate interests over citizens. He notes that full freedom of panorama across the union has been proposed, but that France resists the idea. Even so, unless and until personal social media posts come to be considered “commercial,” the threat of censored vacation photos remains academic.

Cynthia Murrell, May 10, 2019


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