Freedom of Panorama under threat

03 July 2015

Region: Headquarters

Freedom of Panorama – photography in public spaces under threat

Over the past two weeks The Royal Photographic Society has been involved in raising awareness of the threat to ‘freedom of panorama’ (FoP) and in lobbying for a proposal to change the way it currently operates in the United Kingdom before the European Parliament to be dismissed.

The Society was initially approach by Wikimedia over the threat and it notified the British Photographic Council and other organisations resulting in a letter in The Times highlighting the threat. The story had been picked up in the national press with some highlighting the threat to the public's holiday snaps! 

So what is freedom of panorama?  In the United Kingdom (and other EU states including Germany, Spain, Sweden, Poland, Austria and the Netherlands) we enjoy the right to photograph buildings and sculptures and works of art ‘if permanently situated in a public place or in premises open to the public’ for our own enjoyment and even for commercial use. Some countries allow buildings only to be photographed and others allow photography for non-commercial use.

One group of countries, principally France, Italy, Belgium and Greece, prohibit any photography, even incidentally, of such works without the permission of the creator. In France these rights continue in perpetuity. This can lead to bizarre situations where, in this often quoted example, it is permissible to photograph the Eiffel Tower during the daytime, but not at night because its illumination is consider a creative work in its own right and those rights are still extant.

What is being proposed?  As part of the European Union's ongoing work around copyright reform and hormonisation, the Legal Affairs Committee of the European Parliament has produced a draft report and an amendment proposed by Jean-Marie Caveda, a French MEP, ‘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 was accepted and forms part of the report which will be voted on by the EU parliament on 9 July. 

This is the threat to FoP which has operated in the United Kingdom successfully for over 100 years.

Will the proposal become law? To move the report into law which would operate across the European Union is very long process so there is no immediate threat and it may never come to being adopted. There are, in fact, few voices raised in its favour but if it remains in the report it will be harder to have it removed at later stages.. 

What action should we take? Although the chances of removing the right of FoP across Europe are remote The Society – like other UK and pan-European organisations - believes that it is sensible to get the idea either dismissed completely and to allow individual states to operate as hitherto; or, if harmonisation is required, then to adopted the model that has operated successfully in the UK and elsewhere across the EU so that EU citizen can photograph any building or sculpture or art work in a public space without restriction.

To this end The Society would encourage members to sign a Europe-wide petition at change.org calling on the proposed change to be deleted. You may also wish to contact your own MEP to register your views.  Ultimately The Society would like to see FoP extended across the whole of the EU and to remove the mix of approaches across member states.

Want to know more? If you want to learn more the following may be of interest to you:

If you have any views on FoP or The Society’s position please contact Dr Michael Pritchard FRPS, Director-General. e: director@rps.org   t: 01225 325730 

Image: The London skyline today and with representations of the main buildings removed which could be the case if FoP was restricted and permission was not sought to show them in a photograph...