Is Photographing London Going To Be Banned By The EU?

Andy Thornley
By Andy Thornley Last edited 33 months ago
Is Photographing London Going To Be Banned By The EU?

St Paul's Cathedral blacked out
The view of St Paul's we'd have to get used to? Image altered from an original by Mark Cornick from the Londonist Flickr Pool

A campaign has been launched to protect the freedom to photograph city panoramas such as the skyline of London, ahead of an EU Parliament vote on copyright. Campaigners claim this vote could mean it will be illegal to take photos of London's iconic skyline.

So what actually is the EU Parliament going to vote on?

At the end of 2014, the European Parliament appointed a Rapporteur — an MEP tasked with writing a report on a particular topic — to look at harmonising copyright law across Europe. The EU, being a huge fan of cross-border business, is understandably quite big on harmonisation as it makes trading through different EU member states much easier.

The MEP who was asked to write the report is the Parliament’s sole Pirate Party MEP, a German called Julia Reda. Currently, France and Belgium are the only EU member states which copyrights architectural design and the capturing of commercial images of it.

Her report is due to be voted on in the EU parliament on 9 July and the section causing most concern is an amendment added by the EU Legal Affairs Committee that would ban the taking of photographs of buildings as the designs and architecture of these would be commercially copyrighted. The amendment in question:

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 also has the ability to also spill over in to the consumer space as the fine-print of Facebook’s terms and conditions could mean you may need to seek out if the subject of your photograph is copyrighted. A right old ball-ache if you take a city-break and want to share your pics after your holidays.

But before you make your placards and head over to St Pancras Eurostar terminal, there is one important point to consider; although they’ll be voting on the report, the EU Parliament can’t actually write legislation. European laws (called Directives) are written by the EU Commission, upon which the EU Parliament and Council of Ministers (domestic Governmental representatives of EU member states) negotiate on in a process called a trialogue.

Despite the fact the vote on Thursday won’t be legally binding, it may well be influential. The Commission is due to look at harmonising copyright law across the EU later on in the year and the result of the vote shows the appetite of the Parliament when it boils down to a trialogue.

If you feel strongly about this, the campaign group Photographer Not a Terrorist is rallying the troops to campaign to influence MEPs to strike out the amendment.

What are your favourite views of London? How would you feel if they were lost? Add your comments below.

Last Updated 06 July 2015

Ed Waddleton

The Tower of London/Tower Bridge North and south skyline, especially at night. All those glass sky scrapers, and those iconic churches and our favourite London Cathedral, St Paul's and the House of Parliament and how can they copyright the architecture of Windsor Castle, heavens above this must be stopped NOW.

DrDNoble

If France is one of the countries that already have laws based on architectural copyright - surely we would seen an abrupt halt in the publishing of photo's of the Eiffel Tower, L'arc de Triomphe,etc. Not sure that's happened or there are massive fines/court cases pending as a result. In most cases there would only be issues where someone uses the photo's for commercial purposes. In that case Heinz may need a new model for it's HP sauce.

Hobart Calling

As a regular photographic contributor to a Dutch based world wide website for construction geeks (which I wont name out of deference to Londonist) this could be an absolute nightmare if it extends to the posting of construction of the buildings as well! Yikes!

Wildfigmedia

This type of legislation is draconian to say the least. Getting permission of London eye, with the houses of parliament in the background, are you saying that possibly every building in sight one would need permission? What about retrospectively? How long would a copyright law exist, on book and other items they have a fixed term. With the skyline of most major cities changing all the time, this would be a nightmare. Went to London guys and here are all my green screen photos!

James Guppy

More ridiculous waste of resources...pissing on ordinary people's fires while Rome burns...what a joke.

Sag Ichnicht

Why doesn't this article mention it at all, that a likely majority of the plenum has announced that it will vote down the amendment in question? It is correct that this report is not legally binding anyway, but it is also very unlikely that this report will contain this stupid copyright amendment in its final version.

David Russell

Architects throughout Europe should sign a declaration that states that should they own a copyright on the photography of the exterior of their buildings, they freely donate this copyright to the world at large. This should be organized by professional bodies such as the RIBA. I am a member of the RIBA and I will ask them to organize this.

CanAmSteve

A bit histrionic, no? First, we're talking "commercial" use. So 99% of the photos taken daily of these iconic views are unaffected. Facebook's usage terms are for covering their butts and only policed when a legitimate complaint is made (maybe). So a FB advertiser who stole a picture could run into trouble, but not your average user.

Now to professional/commercial use. Why shouldn't the creator of a work be compensated for commercial use that relies on it? Surely the architect and or owner of (for example) the Gherkin deserves their piece of the action? It's not a public building - someone paid to have it designed and built and they *own* it.

Copyright law is fraught with peril, but in general, I believe courts have ruled that incidental inclusion is permissible (you take a photo of a new product with the London skyline and the Gherkin is recognisable). However, if you come out with a new type of pickle and the background of the ad used is the Gherkin - you got problems.

Now calm down.