PR use of public images under FOP threat

Photographs including modern buildings and other creative works may fall foul of new European Parliament copyright proposals. New constraints on ‘freedom of panoroma’ may stop PR businesses using photos and videos taken in public places for professional purposes, including reuse on social media.

Statue, ScheveningenDo you take photographs on your foreign holidays? Perhaps share some of them on Facebook, Instagram or Flickr? Or maybe even put some in the public domain for reuse on places like Wikipedia? Depending on where you took those photographs and what they show, it seems that this innocent activity may already be breaking copyright law, particularly if your photos (or videos) show modern buildings or sculptures.

And it could get a whole lot worse, impacting PR professionals using photos and videos taken in public places for professional purposes, including sharing them on social media.

Freedom of Panorama

Stevie Benton of Wikimedia UK blogged on 11 June about the UK being at risk of losing Freedom of Panorama:

“Every day, millions of Europeans are breaking copyright law. Due to an obscure rule known as Freedom of Panorama, those innocent snapshots of modern buildings you’ve taken in countries such as France and Belgium are breaches of copyright. While the UK has this freedom, we are at risk of losing it in the ongoing copyright reform negotiations taking place in the European Parliament.”

Freedom of Panorama in Europe NC.svgCopyright reformers led by Julia Reda MEP would like to introduce UK-style freedom of panorama (FOP) across the EU (evaluation report explained here; para 16 addresses FOP), but other MEPs are proposing a non-commercial clause in the FOP rules which would make it useless. They suggested: “use of reproductions of works in public spaces should require express permission by the rightsholders.” Posting your holiday snaps on Facebook, Flickr or Instagram, or taking PR shots or video against the backdrop of well-known public buildings could become illegal.

In the UK, Germany, the Netherlands and several other countries (see image, right **), the right of FOP is protected, so photos taken in public spaces are fine. However, in countries including France, Italy and Greece, any unapproved photograph of a modern public building is an automatic infringement of the architect’s copyright in the building’s design (I expect the same could be said of an engineer’s copyright in designs of bridges and other structures). Taking and uploading your own photos of those works is unlawful unless approved in writing by the copyright holder.

Benton also echoes Reda’s point that even photos of older buildings may still be banned:

“For example, you can share a photo of the Eiffel Tower because of its age – but only if it is taken during the day. If the photo is at night, the lighting is considered a separate installation and falls foul of Freedom of Panorama.”

Wikipedia cannot even use such images for free educational purposes, as Wikimedia UK chair Michael Maggs says:

wikipedia-logo“The problem we have today is that many Wikipedia articles about buildings and monuments cannot be appropriately illustrated when the structure is located in a country without Freedom of Panorama. … It’s important that the European Parliament takes care of freedom of panorama. We support the very long-standing right of UK citizens and visitors to these shores to take photographs of buildings in public places and to do what they want with their own photos without having to seek permission from any third party commercial rights holder.”

It is not just posting of images to Wikipedia and social media sites that is giving rise to concern. Taking photographs in public spaces that include modern buildings, structures and/or sculptures will also fall foul, creating a potential new bureaucratic nightmare where – to comply with the law – PR, marketing and advertising professionals (among others) will have to seek out and gain permissions from architects, engineers, other designers and artists if photos or videos include views of their work.

And – having worked with various UK construction professional services businesses – I can’t see architects, engineers and other design firms being keen to, or even capable of, administering a potential flood of incoming copyright license applications.

UK PR bodies protest

CIPR logoOn Friday 19 June, the CIPR and PRCA launched a joint attack on European Parliament’s failure to protect the ‘Freedom of Panorama’. The two PR membership criticised the Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee’s decision to reject proposals to protect FOP, saying:

“… the failure to protect this Freedom threatens the legality of photo-sharing and social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Flickr. Under the proposals as agreed on by the Committee, full permissions, clearances, royalties, and/or use of authorised images would be required for videos, photographs, paintings or drawings with any potential commercial use.

CIPR CEO Alastair McCapra said:

We … call on MEPs from the UK, as well as other affected countries, to ensure that these disastrous proposals are not enacted into law. We also call on the UK government to make very strong representations in the European Council to stop this proposal in its tracks.

UK Construction and FOP

The CIPR has already started to contact other professional membership organisations regarding FOP, with a view to lobbying UK and other MEPs ahead of a critical vote on 9 July. A late flurry of tweets on Friday and a few exchanges over the weekend have started to put FOP on the radar of bodies such as the Construction Industry Council and its members including the RIBA, the ICE and the Landscape Institute (among others). I’ll be watching developments closely over the next couple of weeks.

[* I took the ‘grumpy statue’ image in Scheveningen, Netherlands, recently – and it’s freely available on Flickr on a Creative Commons license. / ** “Freedom of Panorama in Europe NC” by Made by King of Hearts based on Quibik’s work – Derivative work of File:Freedom of Panorama in Europe.svg. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.]


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  1. Very interesting post… Surely the proposals are totally unworkable? I also can’t understand how they benefit anyone.

    If enshrined in UK law, I would be break it every day, as my Instagram feed is primarily photos of buildings.

    1. Totally agree, Leonie. Perhaps some MEPs think architects and other designers and artists should have a new revenue stream, but – even if the copyright holders wanted this – the administrative overhead of pursuing copyright-breakers, and negotiating with those seeking copyright licenses, would be huge. And, if enforced, it might be counter-productive: photos and other depictions of designers’ work might become less widely shared and discussed.

      I would also be concerned that some building owners might start to ‘lean’ on designers to police images and limit their use – for example, if people protested in a public space in front of a building (a government office, a bank, a commercial office, etc) and photos or videos were taken of the demonstration with the building in the background, journalists would presumably need permission to use their images to report the protest.

      Your Instagram use, my use of Flickr (I have 11,000 images there), ours’ and others’ sharing of images on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc, would potentially be compromised, but it would be almost impossible to police (at least not without some sophisticated image searching and recognition software, and the cooperation of platform providers) particularly given that Facebook users alone add around 350 million photos a day.

  2. Talking as an Architectural educator, this is extremely worrying. A big part of our delivery to students now involves the effective publishing of material online so our students can refer to it during the rest of their studies. This already causes huge issues as we need to source Creative Commons images or images we already collectively own as a department taken by our staff. Both these image sources would disappear if FOP was restricted in this way as I doubt many (if any) of the image authors (either amongst our staff or amongst individuals who allow use of their photos under Creative Commons licensing) have got the building designer’s permission.

    Talking as an Architect, I totally agree with everything said above. I can’t see the value in this for design professionals as our primary income stream is the design of buildings. If people share that work by photographing it and publishing those photographs we get greater exposure and, if the buildings are any good, more work in the process. I can’t see any built environment professional seeing this as positive or at all workable.

    • meyir on 23 June 2015 at 10:03 pm
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    How can you say there is FOP in the UK when there is an entire array of buildings I can’t take pictures of – as a stock photographer?

    1. Hi Meyir – which “entire array of buildings” in the UK can you not take photographs of?

      There are clearly some spaces that are not ‘public’ – I recall issues with people wanting to photograph the Westfield shopping centre in west London, for example, and permission may be needed for photography in some locations (as a past company photographer, I had to seek permissions for commercial photography in some London railway stations, for instance). While places may be open to the public, they may not actually be public spaces.

  1. […] blogged about it yesterday, musing also on the extent to which architects and other design firms would be prepared to […]

  2. […] Freedom of Panorama (FoP) is a somewhat obscure provision in copyright law that allows people to take photographs or video of buildings and and other works in public places without infringing any copyright, and to publish such images. This right prevails in the UK and in certain other parts of Europe (the Netherlands and Germany, for example), but not in others (eg: France, Italy, Greece). However, our continued freedom to take photographs and to use them (in brochures, on websites, in social media, etc) is threatened under proposals tabled by members of the European Parliament (see my PR blog post: PR use of public images under FOP threat). […]

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