Bonkers EU Want to Ban Photos Of Public Landmarks

By Geoff Harris

Save our right to photograph famous landmarks!

London panorama at night

European photographers who keep up with the news are probably aware of some worrying new proposals from European Union legislators to make it much more difficult and costly to take and share images of famous landmarks without permission.

We're talking about iconic structures and public artworks such as the Angel of the north, the London Eye, or the Fourth Plinth on Trafalgar Square. In a proposed change to European law, UK photographers would lose the right to the “freedom of panorama,” a provision in copyright law that means you can usually publish photographs of modern buildings or public art installations without having to worry about the consequences.

The Freedom of Panorama concession doesn't exist in France or Italy, hence the suggestion that the UK should face similar restrictions (ironically, the whole can of worms was opened by a well-meaning German MEP who wanted to extend, not limit, the rights of photographers, but such is the nature of parliaments).

Needless to say, many photographers and photographic bodies have spoken out against the proposed change. Charles Swan, a director of the Association of Photographers and an intellectual property lawyer, laid into the proposal in the Daily Telegraph, calling it “absurd” and “a complete invasion of our freedom of expression.”

Meanwhile, Wikipedia is estimating it would be forced to remove an estimated 40,000 images from its website if the European Parliament votes through the law.

A petition against the proposed change has been set up here.

So what buildings can you photograph copyright-free?

Complacency is risky when dealing with massive bureaucracies and our hard-won rights can be easily taken away. In the meantime, here's a quick rundown of what public buildings and public artworks you can currently photograph in the UK (seek professional advice if you need more information – this is not legal advice).

* Section 62 of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 permits certain copying in relation to buildings, and also to sculptures and 'works of artistic craftsmanship' that sit in a public place or in premises open to the public.

That is why you can currently photograph the Angel of the North and other public artworks without breaking the law. Most working photographers are unlikely to fall foul of legislation, unless they also photograph members of the public in front of landmarks who then appear in advertisements without giving permission.

* You are usually ok to take photographs of buildings when you are on public land (ie when you are standing on the pavement) but once you enter the buildings you are usually on private property, and the owner may not allow photography – hence photographers being turfed out of shopping malls, but then legally protesting outside. You often need permission when shooting inside train and subway stations too, and airports are also very sensitive, for obvious reasons.

* Even if you are standing on the pavement, you may still get into trouble for photographing police stations or military bases. For a fuller guide, see here.

Geoff Harris

I am a journalist and photographer and currently work as the Deputy Editor of Amateur Photographer (AP) the oldest weekly photographic magazine in the world. Before that I served as the editor of Digital Camera, Britain's best-selling photography magazine, for five years. During my time as editor it became the UK's top selling photo monthly and won Print Publication of the Year at the 2013 British Media Awards. As well as being lucky enough to get paid to write about photography, I've been fortunate to interview some of the greatest photographers in the world, including Elliott Erwitt, Don McCullin, Martin Parr, Terry O'Neill and Steve McCurry. This has been a wonderful learning experience and very influential on my photography. Beyond writing, I am a professional portrait, travel and documentary photographer, and reached the finals of the 2016 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year competition. I am a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society and hope to take my Associateship whenever I can find the time. In addition I write about well being/personal development and antiques collecting for a range of other titles, including BlueWings, the in-flight magazine of Finn Air.

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