report

I Found It On Google! Are You a Copyright Infringer?

Desktop Wallpaper Photo of the Eiffel Tower at Night

Wallpaper websites show photos of lighted monuments as their background and some make money off them as well.  Are they now copyright infringers?
Wallpaper websites show photos of lighted monuments as their background and some make money off them as well. Are they now copyright infringers? | Source

Intellectual Property (Copyright) Law

As most of you know, I follow articles about copyright law like a dogcatcher chases dogs (sorry, the politically correct term is Animal Control Officer).

Those who follow me know there is not much written online about copyright infringement that escapes my notice.

Several articles in particular came to my inbox regarding an issue of copyright infringement of the Atomium monument in Belgium and the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France.

After reading about five of the articles, I thought the whole thing was ludicrous, so I just blew it off.

But now, some twenty or more articles later, SABAM (the Belgium copyright agency enforcing copyright for the Atomium monument) and the "Société d’Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel" (the operating company who holds the Eiffel Tower's copyright) are getting serious about this, and they are raising just enough of a stink to make worldwide news.

The European Union countries of France, Belgium, and Italy are part of the Berne Convention, of which I have written extensively in the past. Usually, all members agree to follow Copyright Law as outlined in the Berne Convention, but they are allowed to make some amendments to tailor them to their country's needs.

A Copyright Directive was issued in 2001, and because of some vague wording, France, Belgium, and Italy decided to follow the beat of a different drummer to cherry-pick which of the Directives they would honor, while still remaining members of the Berne Convention.

The results are a doozie.

Anyone who uses certain images of public buildings in Belgium, Italy, or France is guilty of copyright infringement.

— EU Observer, November 4, 2014 article

Part One: The Atomium Monument in Brussells

In the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Germany, anyone can take photos of public buildings to use anywhere, without worrying about being sued. This includes some of the buildings of the European Parliament in Brussels and in Strasbourg, but not the Atomium.

As of April 2008, Belgium has banned the photographing of the monument "Atomium," which was built in 1958 for the 1958 Brussels World's Fair.

So if they banned the photographs, what did they do regarding all the existing photos?

They blackened out the monument's shape in the photos which, in my opinion, just makes them look silly - as seen in the following photograph.

Per the article on the EU Observer website, according to Dimitar Dimitrov, a policy expert for the European Wikimedia chapter in Brussels:

If you take an image of the Atomium and put it on Facebook, that is copyright infringement. Only people who take photos for non-promotional uses on “private websites” do not need to ask [permission to use]."

I don't understand how it is considered copyright infringement on Facebook since Facebook users typically have no control over the advertising in their sidebars.

By the same token, if the photos are uploaded to their "private photo albums" on Facebook, hence a non-promotional use, why then is Facebook considered copyright infringement. The statement made by policy expert Dimitar Dimitrov just boggles me.

To add to my confusion, the actual Atomium website says: any use of the image of the Atomium must be submitted [to the organisation] before it is published."

So, which one is correct?

Censored Photo of Belgium's Atomium Monument

Censorship of Atomium with the monument blackened out.  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Romaine
Censorship of Atomium with the monument blackened out. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Romaine | Source

Who Needs to Get Permission?

If you are making money on your use of the photograph, be prepared to ask permission or be accused of copyright infringement and coughing up monetary damages.

If you are using the photograph on a "private website," (for no commercial purpose) the EU Observer's website says you don't need to ask.

I guess all those journalists who sold their photographs of the Atomium at the 1958 Brussell's World's Fair, and since then, are finding the monument blackened out of their photograph.

It must be some chore tracking down all those photographs!

When SABAM, Belgium copyright agent for Atomium, claimed worldwide intellectual property rights on all reproductions of the Atomium, they issued a demand that a certain United States website remove all Atomium images from its pages.

The US website's answer to them was to place a written warning in the place of the Atomium image, telling readers not to snap photos of the Atomium because they will be sued for copyright infringement.

I'm sure that met with grand approval from Belgium. Not.

The website finally opted to use a replica model of the Atomium which was built in Austria. In other venues, pictures of the actual monument have all been blackened out to respect Belgian laws.

In response, a SABAM spokeswoman reiterated that anyone wishing to reproduce the Atomium image in any publication or website MUST have a prior authorization already submitted to SABAM before posting the photograph.

So, I ask this question - for the sake of argument and not because I want to use a photo of the Atomium:

  • What is to keep someone who is viewing the photo in someone's "private photo album" from doing a maneuver known as 'right mouse click, then save to desktop', so they can use a photo as their own wherever they wish, for profit or not?

Nothing.

This is going to be hard - if not impossible - to enforce.

I guess we will be hearing about this for another 62 years, because copyright usage rights for the Atomium do not expire until the January 1, 2076 - which is 70 years after the death of its copyright holder, André Waterkeyn.

Not that it matters to anyone but me, but I find it interesting that they believe blackening out the Atomium image, leaving the silhouette of the shape, fixes the copyright infringement issue. It seems like a lot of work to go through for almost no gratification.

Your opinion?

Do you think "blackening out" photos of the Atomium is effectively honoring the copyright?

See results

Eiffel Tower

https://www.flickr.com/photos/setaou/4558372935/
https://www.flickr.com/photos/setaou/4558372935/ | Source

The Language of French Copyright Law

According to Wikipedia:

"In June 1990, a French court ruled that a special lighting display on the {Eiffel} Tower in 1989 (the Tower's 100th anniversary) was an "original visual creation" protected by copyright. The Court of Cassation, France's judicial court of last resort, upheld the ruling in March 1992.

"The Société d'Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel (copyright holder) now considers any illumination of the Tower to be under copyright. As a result, it is no longer legal to publish contemporary photographs of the Tower at night without permission in France and some other countries. [Enforcing] the copyright has been controversial.

"The Director of Documentation for what was then the Société nouvelle d'exploitation de la tour Eiffel (SNTE), Stéphane Dieu, commented in January 2005, "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."

"However, it also could be used to prohibit tourist photographs of the Tower at night from being published, as well as hindering non-profit and semi-commercial publication of images of the Tower. French doctrine and jurisprudence traditionally allow pictures incorporating a copyrighted work as long as their presence is incidental or accessory to the main represented subject, a reasoning akin to the 'de minimis' rule.

"Thus, SETE could not claim copyright on, for example, photographs of panoramas of Paris which include the lit Tower."

Author's note: Panorama views which just happen to catch a glimpse of the lighted Eiffel Tower were never considered as copyright infringement, per the Society.

According to http://www.toureiffel.paris: (emphasis mine)

"The Eiffel Tower ... falls within public domain. Daytime views from the Eiffel Tower are rights-free. However, its various illuminations are subject to author’s rights as well as brand rights.

"Professional or commercial use of these images is subject to prior request from the "Société d’Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel" (the Eiffel Tower’s operating company, or SETE). The citation "Eiffel Tower", the names of the various services offered on the monument as well as domain names are also registered."

Part Two: Copyright Infringement of the Eiffel Tower, Paris France

By all accounts, the Eiffel Tower, built in 1889, should be free of copyrights for anyone to snap and share a picture of it - either online or in a print article.

And it is free. But only if the photo was snapped in the daytime.

What?

That's right, only nighttime photographs of the lighted Eiffel Tower are protected by copyright.

So, who would have thought such a thing - that photographs of a historical building could be protected by copyright, but only if they were snapped at night?

I think this might seriously impede future tourist traffic to the Eiffel Tower's light shows.

Some people (especially tourists) call this law ridiculous, and some people (especially tourists) challenge the very idea of this almost forgotten European Union copyright law by blatantly publishing their photographs (and YouTube videos) of this beautiful piece of architecture in all its glory, lit up by fireworks and colorful lights against the night sky.

But as I asked in Part One above, who is to say that, after you get your permission, that someone won't copy your photo or video?

I think this issue is a runaway train, ready to go off the track.

As far as I can see, there is really no way to enforce the copyright, given that the Eiffel Tower is such a tourist stop, known the world over, and has had its picture taken more than the Royal Family of England. (I think. lol)

It's true that various light shows have appeared since the early 1900s, performed with candles and/or gaslight. But an LED light show was added in the late 1990s.

The Société d’Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel enforces the copyright and you must write to them to ask permission to publish your night time photographs of the Eiffel Tower.

Blacken Out, or Else!

So think about this logically.

Is the copyright holder for the Eiffel Tower going to require every "for profit" user to "blacken out" the Eiffel Tower monument just so it is not contributing to copyright infringement?

How many journalists, historians, photographers for hire, and website owners have taken night time photos of the Eiffel Tower and published them in print, in videos and elsewhere on the web? Too many to fathom.

There are hundreds of wallpaper websites alone which sell or exhibit lighted monuments like the Eiffel Tower.

In my non-professional opinion, this case might be filed under "never gonna happen" if copyright infringement is ever pursued in a court of law.

YouTube Videos of the Lighted Eiffel Tower

In this article, I am including two YouTube videos showing the Eiffel Tower at night.

For the sake of argument, let's say that both YouTube account holders were granted permission to publish their videos.

Now that their videos are up on YouTube, what is to keep anyone from sharing them, just like I am doing here in this article?

Nothing.

Does that also make "me" a copyright infringer just for sharing them?

I don't think so.

Although I am telling you today that copyright infringement of the Eiffel Tower will be almost impossible to enforce, that doesn't mean that certain people like Beyonce' and others will not be singled out and made an example of just because of their celebrity and their usage of the lighted Eiffel Tower.

Part Three: The Number of Known Copyright Infringers

Although you would think that I am risking getting slapped with a copyright infringement notice, I contend that my article here is for the purpose of commentary, which is a permitted use, according to the Berne Convention.

Let's take a look at others who could be considered potential "copyright infringers."

Beyonce and US Magazine

Among them is the singer Beyonce, who publicly shared on Instagram photographs of her family Paris vacation with her hubby and child, clearly showing the lighted -and un-lighted - Eiffel Tower as a backdrop.

I think that would be considered a "non-commercial" use, unless she gets paid for advertising on her Instagram.

However, US Magazine did a subsequent story on their "Celebrity Mom's" column using the same photographs. As of this writing, I haven't read where US Magazine or Beyonce has been hit with a copyright infringement lawsuit regarding either publication of her photos of the Eiffel Tower at night.

But if it ever does happen to Beyonce, it won't be the first time she faces a copyright infringement lawsuit.

One of her ex-backup singers is suing her for putting his song on her album without asking his permission or paying for the privilege. He's asking $3 million in damages!

With any luck, Beyonce will get some experience under her belt with that lawsuit before she takes on the city of Paris, France. Even though "she" didn't personally publish the photos in US Magazine, she is the owner.

If push came to shove, she could be held liable for copyright infringement of her photos, since she would have had to sign a release for the magazine to publish them.

Beyonce's husband is no stranger to copyright infringement charges either. Jay Z, along with Kanye West, was sued by Syl Johnson for using a sampling of his 1967 "Different Strokes." Syl Johnson is a veteran at this, having sued many performers in the last 20 years. Jay Z and Kanye West settled this case out of court, according to TMZ.com.

Between the two of them, and the legal team at US Magazine, enforcing this copyright may never come to pass.

And if the Society doesn't win their copyright infringement lawsuit with Beyonce' and Jay Z, then this author, the owners of the YouTube videos featured in this article and all of these people will be in the clear as well.

Beautiful Video of Eiffel Tower in Time Lapse Photography

Copyright Infringement?

I'm only sharing their videos with you, and they will remain here with this article as long as either myself or the YouTube account holders have not been shut down.

Awesome Light Show at the Eiffel Tower

POLL: What do you think?

Should night photographs of the Eiffel Tower be considered an infringement of copyright because of the added light show?

See results

Source List

EU Observer - first to publish the story

Torrent Freak - their article enlightened me that sharing photos of your favorite band is copyright infringement.

Bloomberg News - one of United States leading news agencies

Conde' Nast Traveler - "Where To Get The Best Views Of The Eiffel Tower" - shows an Eiffel Tower slideshow dated November 10, 2014

Tour Eiffel Website - does not mention anything about the Eiffel Tower being under copyright (day time or night time!)

Wikipedia - Eiffel Tower

US Magazine

MTV News

Instagram

Conclusion

It seems that the Eiffel Tower is one copyright that will never expire - that is, as long as there is a Society for the Exploitation of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France.


This is also one copyright that might prove the most difficult to enforce.


If an ex-backup singer can sue an infringer for $3 million for a song, I wonder how much the author of a light show for the Eiffel Tower can sue potential infringers for ...

© Rachael O'Halloran, November 2014

© 2014 Rachael O'Halloran

32 comments

billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

Always informative. Your research is always topnotch. As for you being gone, I hope all is well with you now. Don't bother trying to catch up....just start fresh and stay fresh. We have all had times when we were called away from HP. People understand.


RachaelOhalloran profile image

RachaelOhalloran 2 years ago from United States Author

billybuc, thank you so much for reading and for your ongoing support. I appreciate it very much.


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 2 years ago from The Beautiful South

Wow how crazy is this! Crazy world and not getting any better doesn't seem. I have been gone much too and have an email full to catch up to. I try and that is all I can ever promise! lol


RachaelOhalloran profile image

RachaelOhalloran 2 years ago from United States Author

Jackie, thank you for taking time to read my article. :)


DDE profile image

DDE 2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

Informative and always so helpful. Your idea in writing this hub is most important to all.


RachaelOhalloran profile image

RachaelOhalloran 2 years ago from United States Author

DDE, thank you for your compliment and for reading my article.


bravewarrior profile image

bravewarrior 2 years ago from Central Florida

Rache, this is ludicrious! These are world-famous icons. To expect people to not take and share photos makes no sense. As for the Eiffel Tower, it seems a stretch of the laws to extend copyrights from the 100 year anniversary nighttime display to ANY and ALL nighttime displays. Why put them on if they don't want people to snap shots for posterity's sake?

And why isn't the Eiffel Tower in Las Vegas a copyright infringement? It's a replica of the original. Now, that's copying someone's work, don't you think?


RachaelOhalloran profile image

RachaelOhalloran 2 years ago from United States Author

bravewarrior, I agree replicas could be addressed as copyright infringement, but I have a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that a building could hold a copyright!

From what I read in my research, the Society in Paris is concerned only with the original Eiffel Tower light display (including fireworks).

I hope I live long enough to see how they are going to enforce this copyright, because in my world, national monuments are just that - national - belonging to the people so all can enjoy.

This whole issue is ridiculous and I wish I was the judge sitting on the case - I'd throw the whole lot of them out of court. Thanks for reading and for your views. I'm right there with you!


breakfastpop profile image

breakfastpop 2 years ago

I can't accept a building holding a copyright. For me this is a non-issue. Up and interesting!


RachaelOhalloran profile image

RachaelOhalloran 2 years ago from United States Author

breakfastpop, thanks for weighing in on this. I agree.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean

What great job you do, Rachel. Your information is interesting and important. I understand people wanting ownership but the copyright business seems to be turning into a war. Is it worth it?


RachaelOhalloran profile image

RachaelOhalloran 2 years ago from United States Author

MsDora, I don't think copyrighting a building - no matter what its importance - is worth it because this will be too hard to enforce, given the number of photographs in circulation already.

But in the end, I guess the only people making out is the copyright lawyers. When settlements are made out of court, it is unknown what has transpired in the agreement, but I know one thing for sure - the attorney got his fee.

The copyright infringement business has become a very big business due to the "propaganda," overly educating the public, and unbelievable accusations of infringement publicized on the web. I think if we didn't hear about it so much, it wouldn't be so prevalent. But as with all things $$, there are big bucks to be made in the suing.

It all depends on who you are. The caps of $150,000 per infringement have fallen by the wayside because of lawsuits against music entertainers who have made such a bundle off stolen songs. Those are the cases we hear about that are being sued for $3million or more. When they settle out of court, I'd sure like to know what the bottom dollar was in the settlement. lol

Thanks for reading my article.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

This is an interesting article, Rachel. I didn't realize that copyrighting a photo could be so complicated! There is now even more to think about when we use photos. Thanks for doing all the research and for sharing it in this very useful hub.


RachaelOhalloran profile image

RachaelOhalloran 2 years ago from United States Author

AliciaC, I think the process of copyright enforcement has been made to seem more difficult since the internet has been around. As for enforcing copyright of the Eiffel Tower, I feel like telling them "Good luck with that." lol Thanks for reading and commenting.


travmaj profile image

travmaj 2 years ago from australia

Your articles are always informative and interesting. How complicated and seemingly futile but I guess the powers that be have reasons. Financial reasons. I also had no idea that copyrighting a photo could be so complicated.


RachaelOhalloran profile image

RachaelOhalloran 2 years ago from United States Author

travmaj, the copyright business has become a very big business, thanks to the profits that can be made if someone infringes on the copyright. My take on this case with the Eiffel Tower is that it is futile, but I may be proven wrong, who knows?

I just can't imagine going after all those people who took night time photos (not private citizens, just those who sold the photos) and trying to get them to honor a copyright. To me, it is a waste of time. Thank you for reading and commenting.


Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 2 years ago from Wales

A wonderful read Rachael and I learnt so much. Here's to so many more hubs for us both to share on here.

Eddy.


allpurposeguru profile image

allpurposeguru 2 years ago from North Carolina

And I thought Sonny Bono's "Mickey Mouse Protection Act" was the most ridiculous tampering with public domain that I had heard about! These belong on "News of the Weird"!


vkwok profile image

vkwok 2 years ago from Hawaii

I agree that it is absolutely ridiculous what is going on with these famous monuments. Thumbs up to an awesome hub.


FlourishAnyway profile image

FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

Sometimes people are ridiculous. Having seen the Eiffel Tower during the day and at night, there is nothing like its night show. A spectacular treat. Glad to have you back!


RachaelOhalloran profile image

RachaelOhalloran 2 years ago from United States Author

Eddy, The idea of copyrighting a building still seems ludicrous to me after all the research I did. I'll be stopping by to see what you have published. Your corner of the world is just spectacular and I am very envious of you to be able to live in such a wonderful place. You are very fortunate. :) Thanks for taking time to read and comment.


RachaelOhalloran profile image

RachaelOhalloran 2 years ago from United States Author

allpurposeguru, The Sonny Bono Act (created during his lifetime but made law after his death) added more time to copyright years ostensibly for authors to be able to profit. But if they are dead, truly who is profiting here? It was a US government coup to be able to keep stuff out of public domain as long as possible, to collect fees, as is proven by the new US public domain offerings that have NOT been granted each year up to 2019. Tampering? You bet. And this article about monuments being copyrighted is another example of it. It will only be a matter of time before the US catches on and starts copyrighting monuments in this country. Thanks for reading and commenting.


RachaelOhalloran profile image

RachaelOhalloran 2 years ago from United States Author

vkwok, It's all about the money. But enforcing these copyrights will be next to impossible given how widespread the photos have been shared. Thanks for the thumbs up and for reading my article.


RachaelOhalloran profile image

RachaelOhalloran 2 years ago from United States Author

FlourishAnyway, It IS ridiculous! But I had to write about it because I just couldn't get past the idea that they are going to give their best shot at trying to enforce the copyright. We'll see. lol Thanks for reading and commenting. It is good to be back, the catching up part is hard. But, I'm trying. :)


SherriDW profile image

SherriDW 2 years ago

Wow, what will be copyrighted next? I think it's great that people are able to share pics and videos with others, whether it is on a personal site or for profit site. Oftentimes that's the only way I'll will ever see some places and things in my lifetime. Thanks for the article.


RachaelOhalloran profile image

RachaelOhalloran 2 years ago from United States Author

SherriDW, I think that's probably the only way many of us see the wonders of foreign countries or even in our own country because of their distance from us. We all live vicariously through photos and it is a national past time if not world past time.

With the Eiffel Tower, going after professionals to be able to charge them a use fee for using the musical light show or for bigger bucks, taking them to court charging infringement with lost revenue where they can collect high financial damages over the $150,000 limit - this could very well be an example of a copyright troll (someone who gets a copyright for a work, and then looks for underhanded ways to make money on it.)

More about copyright trolls in an upcoming article.

I'm not saying the Society in Paris France is a copyright troll, but if the sole reason for securing the copyright was to add to their financial coffers for infringement, then the shoe may fit.

They might have been better putting a Creative Commons license on it and allow users to use it under certain conditions, instead of screaming infringement at every turn - even snapshots.

The world of copyrights has gone loony. This is just one case where it is proving true.

Thanks for reading and for your comment.


SherriDW profile image

SherriDW 2 years ago

I'm looking forward to your article on copyright trolls.

I agree that Creative Commons license might be a better way to go.


RachaelOhalloran profile image

RachaelOhalloran 2 years ago from United States Author

SherriDW,

Thank you for visiting again. I'm working on the article, trying to make sure all my t's are crossed and so I don't get sued for mis-stating facts or names. lol Hope to have it ready by Monday.


CatherineGiordano profile image

CatherineGiordano 23 months ago from Orlando Florida

I think it is carrying copyright too far. If someone takes a photo, it is their photo. We have a write to photograph public buildings and public places.


RachaelOhalloran profile image

RachaelOhalloran 23 months ago from United States Author

Catherine Giordano,

I see it this way for public buildings. The word "public" implies that it is in a public place, for the public to enjoy and admire. For many people, part of admiring entails taking photos. It is our right to photograph public buildings, since we do it as much to mark that we have visited there as we do to show others who will possibly never visit these places.

The brainiacs who were writing this law would have done better to say that taking photos when the copyrighted light show was in progress were forbidden (much like they are in a movie theatre) and even at that, I still say they are going to be in an impossible position to enforce this ludicrous law.

This whole issue tarnishes the word "copyright" for everyone who enjoys having one.

Thanks for your visit and comment.


PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 22 months ago from Dallas, Texas

Thanks for this informative and thought provoking article. It really does give us pause to think about all the cameras and video equipment that makes it so easy to film an event. Despite all the warnings issued before the start of a show I attended in Las Vegas, I saw several people using their phones to film the performance. I suppose if they post the video to YouTube and then monetize it, they will be liable for copyright infringement. It has become a strange world.


RachaelOhalloran profile image

RachaelOhalloran 22 months ago from United States Author

Hi Peg, Thanks for reading this article and commenting. In reference to your most recent hub about your photo theft, I want to refer you to my article here:

http://hubpages.com/technology/Spotlight-On-Using-...

Picasa is a Google photo editing program that's so easy that my 9 year old granddaughter can do it.

Give it a try, even on photos you make create like: posters, collages, etc.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article