Every Thursday I do a posting for this blog about intellectual property rights etc., and I am getting paid for this, so this is a commitment that I take seriously. It means that I tend to follow up anything (this link trail started here and went via here) with words like “copyright” or “patent” or “intellectual property” in it with less than my usual level of casualness about internet chitchat.
The Eiffel Tower’s likeness had long since been part of the public domain, when in 2003, it was abruptly repossessed by the city of Paris. That’s the year that the SNTE, the company charged with maintaining the tower, adorned it with a distinctive lighting display, copyrighted the design, and in one feel swoop, reclaimed the nighttime image and likeness of the most popular monument on earth. In short: they changed the actual likeness of the tower, and then copyrighted that.
As a result, it’s no longer legal to publish current photographs of the Eiffel Tower at night without permission…
So far so depressing, and I will probably do my next Thursday’s CNE-IP posting about this, unless something more compelling of an IP-related sort comes my way. Suggestions for that, and for my IP postings generally, are of course very welcome.
The bit that got me wanting to write about this for Samizdata comes immediately next:
…Technically, this applies even to amateurs. When I spoke to the Director of Documentation for SNTE, Stéphane Dieu,…
I love that surname.
…via phone last week, he assured me that SNTE wasn’t interested in prohibiting the publication of amateur photography on personal Web sites. “It is really just a way to manage commercial use of the image, so that it isn’t used in ways we don’t approve,” said Mr. Dieu.
In a way this is fair enough, if the property rights in question are not in any way controversial or even confusing. I let people into my flat and can still then control their behaviour by not allowing them in any more. But Intellectual Property rights with regard to something like open-air photography of architectural monuments, followed by Internet display, are hardly a model of clarity and certainty. What bothers me about this is the sense I have that the French Official Mind is not making very nice distinctions here between what is simply private property, and that which is public property, but still supposedly in need of protection. The protective methods they are using suggest a definite preference for benign tyranny over clear definitions of what is and what is not allowed. There is an air of “everything is prohibited, so that in practice most of it can still happen, but can then be arbitrarily interrupted whenever we feel like it”, about this.
It is surely not a good sign when things are described as “technically” illegal.
I will certainly regard myself from now on as entirely entitled to photo the Eiffel Tower at night, and to display my pictures of it on the Internet in any way I like that does not insult it or severely misrepresent its shape or nature. Yet I have the feeling that if Mr Dieu took against me for some other reason (perhaps for also photographing something more definitely forbidden than the Eiffel Tower at night), my Eiffel Tower pictures might still be used against me.
I would welcome comments on any of that, and also on the even more potentially fraught matter of the rights and wrongs of taking (interesting word use that) pictures of strangers and putting those up on the www, which is something I have already done quite a lot of, and hope in due course to do a lot more of.
A link to a reasonably simple explication of the legal facts in, on the one hand, Britain, and, on the other hand, on the Continent (my understanding being that the law is very different on either side of the Channel), would be especially welcome. Plus: will this contrast soon be ironed out of existence by the EU? Something tells me that if it is, it will be in the form of tighter prohibitions in Britain rather than any relaxation of the law on the Continent.
Maybe my fellow Samizdatista and more to the point fellow CNE-IPer David Carr has already written about all this, here, or here, and I either missed it or forgot about it.