FIRSTLY I would like to point out that all of these photos were taken without a selfie stick. What's with that shit by the way? Can't you just ask someone to take the damn photo for you? No of course not, that would be too difficult and sociable. So naturally, to get that pic for your social media profile you need to go about it in the most completely antisocial way possible.
At this time of the year that means thousands of people are walking around European cities with flimsy metallic batons that you have to constantly duck and wave to avoid even if you can't avoid the sighing out loud. I even spotted people at the beach the other day with those damn sticks. Arghhh!
Because I'm super narcissistic I've posted these photos in the past to my social media even if secretly my dream would be to have a slide night and bore people senseless in my own at home ArtHistory101 class. The click and whir of those old slid machines. Sexy!
The EU, in all its infinite wisdom this week is meeting in Strasbourg to discuss a non binding vote about copyright restrictions.
What does that have to do with anything you ask? Well my darlings, what's at stake here is the eventual clarification of something that is known as Freedom Of Panorama.
What's that? Well kids, it basically means the freedom of unrestricted (photographic) use of landmarks. Still not clear? Taking photos and sharing said photos of landmarks. Not so much landmarks like The Eiffel Tower (well, we'll talk about that one) or the Colosseum as copyright has ceased on those and other sexy old landmarks that make Europe Europe. No it's more a case of the 20th and 21st century additions to the skyline (or any modern adaptations to the older buildings- think the pyramid at the Louvre or Ara Pacis for example).
The problem is that copyright restrictions currently vary from country to country. They were orginally designed to protect against unauthorised commercial usage, but because there are so many countries in the EU and so many different forms of legislation, let's just say things are a mess.
These are often laws that were designed before the advent of the Internet or that have been ratified since in different ways. Some countries respect the idea of commons use or private use or educational/non profit use, but other countries in the EU don't make that distinction. So as a result there is a huge grey area that exists regarding what is acceptable use of imagery and what is not, and where this applies and doesn't.
The idea of the conventions will be to clarify and potentially streamline the European laws in member territories. That can only be a good thing right? Common sense prevailing etc etc. But no, this is the EU we're talking about, and by now we know it's track record on people versus corporate rights and protections.
There are two opposing arguments. The first has been brought forward by a German greens rep to the EU parliament, Julia Reda, who argues that Freedom of Panorama should be extended to all EU territories especially because public placement is akin to a public contribution to ideas and thought.
Some idiots, sorry, I mean people, like Jean Marie Cavada, a French MEP [Member of the European parliament] for example, would like to keep the status quo. Cavada in particular doesn't differentiate between online usage of landmark images. For him, the use on Wikis is equal to that of social media and to other online entities who don't pay royalties.
This is a debate that is fundamentally about commercial usage but Cavada et al have too simplistic a view on the Internet, so the nuances of online use (again what we are really talking about) don't really get respected or looked at properly with that tree of thought.
IF you believe Cavada, then the motivating factor is to protect architects' copyright over their creations. Current rules for example don't protect the Eiffel Tower because copyright lasts only 70 or so years after the creator has passed away, but the Eiffel Tower by night for example is covered by copyright and technically photographing the lit up phallus means that you need to get permission to do so from the French ministries. "Risk jail otherwise!" screamed the Daily Mail.
There are absurd rules and regulations like this also in place in places like Denmark whereas in the Uk the use of commons is more equitable. So for example you can upload a photo of Buckingham Palace onto Wikipedia but you technically can't do the same thing with your night view of Paris' trademark icon or that pesky mermaid in Copenhagen (wasn't she sent to China? Was she allowed to be photographed there?)
There are so many issues at stake here. I would argue that the bulk of landmark photos taken in continental Europe are of buildings that predate the idea of copyright itself.
Secondly, you may as well ask people to check their cameras in at the border for how impossible it would be to police such an idea, when for the most part the average traveller if anything contributes to the places they photograph by reinforcing their image and contributing to their worldwide profile. Also, what if I'm a resident in that city? if I have to look at your goddam building every day because you added it to my skyline without my personal consent then I should have the right to personally photograph it, given I have to look at it everyday.
I think local govts will need to amend their public policy if Cavada's laws are enacted. Recipient of any public money or support for your structure at any time? Bingo, you should have to forfeit your claims to copyright, especially if what I'm doing with your photo is not for commercial gain.
Thankfully, there are some logical people that exist in this neck of the woods. Take Nico Trinkhaus. He's a German photographer who spearheaded a public campaign to stamp out the ridiculous nature of these copyright issues in public spaces. Tomorrow, a petition with almost half a million signatures supporting Trinkhaus' stand is being presented at the EU meeting.
But let's get real for a minute. There's one thing to be said about protecting the design rights of an architect. I'm all for that, especially when they are innovative and offer something new to their craft.
But by placing an object such as a building into a public context, more often than not that building's individual identity gets swallowed by its placement. By altering the public space you are effectively saying ok- this building is no more or less worthy than the tree or other building that sits beside it. Should I be forbidden to photograph yours simply because its newer and is protected by laws that don't otherwise protect the other elements of the surrounding context?
Credit where credit is due, but at the end of the day we're not talking about the rights of architects because they design on commission. We seem to be talking about protecting the rights of companies who are for all intents the owners of these buildings and therefore the owners of the rights that follow.
So people like Cavada, although working within the representational EU advisory system are essentially trying to diminish individual rights in favour of those of corporations and companies.
My social media photos? Well the EU can come for me when they want them. Oh no wait they can't, because for the most part I was more interested in photographing something that was symbolic of the place I visited and on to which I added my own meaning. And as a result perhaps I should copyright them myself.
Read more on Cavada and Reda's positions here.
Dave Di Vito
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Dave Di Vito is a writer, teacher and former curator.He's also the author of the Vinyl Tiger series and Replace The Sky.
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