While many readers of this blog generally understand the federal copyright laws of the United States, some of the European Union’s copyright laws may come as a surprise.  For example, while many countries have a “freedom of panorama” law that allows for the photographing of skylines and copyrighted buildings, the European Union actually allows countries to opt-out of these laws, which results in some of the most famous European landmarks being illegal to photograph.

Typically, intellectual property law in the European Union, specifically copyright law, protects the work of an artist during the lifetime of a creator, plus an additional seventy years.  As such, buildings like the Eiffel Tower, which was constructed in 1923, are considered to have entered into the public domain.  This generally means that public use of the Eiffel Tower is allowed, which explains why imitation towers have been allowed to be constructed worldwide, such as the Eiffel Tower copy that resides in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Photographing or videotaping the Eiffel Tower at night, however, is barred.  The copyright restrictions on the Eiffel Tower is different for its nighttime viewing because lights were not installed on the Eiffel Tower until 1985, which means that the Eiffel Tower with its lights on is still under copyright protection today.  As such, in order to lawfully publish an image of the Eiffel Tower at night, with its lights on, one must request and attain permission from the Eiffel Tower’s operating company, the Société d’Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel.  While the operating company often generally has no issue with tourists photographing the Eiffel Tower at night, it does take issue with the mass dissemination or publication of the Eiffel Tower at night without its permission.

Similarly, because France has chosen to opt out of the “freedom on panorama” law, other French landmarks or buildings under French ownership are subject to similar copyright restrictions.  For example, photographs of the European Parliament building, which sits in Strasbourg, France, are also subject to strict copyright restrictions because the copyright is held by a French architecture bureau.  As such, in order to publish photographs of the European Parliament building, permission must be first secured from the bureau.  The bureau has rigorously policed unauthorized photography of the building, famously barring Wikipedia from publishing photographs without its authorization.

In response, many photographers and intellectual property experts have criticized the European Union’s web of laws, describing the differing policies as confusing and unwelcoming to foreigners.  In response to such criticism, the European Union attempted to make all copyright laws regarding architectural projects in public area uniform by passing a law in 2001 that stated that all photographs of such areas could be taken free of charge.  Genuine support for the law, however, failed to materialize, and as such, the European Union ultimately made the law voluntary, asking countries to opt-in, resulting in a law that has been generally ignored due to its lack of teeth.

Thus, in the end, it is important to note that the European Union has many different laws regarding copyright use and protection.  As the law may vary depending on the country or even on the time of the day, it would behoove clients to consult experienced intellectual property counsel before undertaking any important commercial endeavors abroad.

For more information on this topic, please visit our Copyright Protection service page, which is part of our Software & Copyrights Practice.

Best Legal Blog Klemchuk.comKlemchuk LLP is an Intellectual Property (IP), Technology, Internet, and Business law firm located in Dallas, TX.  The firm offers comprehensive legal services including litigation and enforcement of all forms of IP as well as registration and licensing of patents, trademarks, trade dress, and copyrights.  The firm also provides a wide range of technology, Internet, e-commerce, and business services including business planning, formation, and financing, mergers and acquisitions, business litigation, data privacy, and domain name dispute resolution.  Additional information about the copyright law firm and its copyright attorneys may be found at www.klemchuk.com.

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