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Publishing restrictions on night time Eiffel Tower photos

T A , Nov 10, 2002; 09:20 p.m.

According to the Eiffel Tower's official web site FAQ, the publishing of night time photos of the Eiffel Tower are restricted. And I do have such a photo myself.

The exact text (from the Eiffel Tower site):

Q: Is the publishing of a photo of the Eiffel Tower permitted?
A: There are no restrictions on publishing a picture of the Tower by day. Photos taken at night when the lights are aglow are subjected to copyright laws, and fees for the right to publish must be paid to the SNTE.

Now I've read about there being some peculiarities of publishing rights with certain buildings, monuments, commercial properties, "icons", etc. but does anyone know about this case, how to account for the difference of day and night? Also, how closely cropped would the Eiffel tower have to be for this to apply (ex. Paris city skyline)?


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Ted Marcus , Nov 11, 2002; 01:26 p.m.

A more interesting question: What does "publish" mean? If you take a picture of the Eiffel tower at night, and put it on your Web site, is that "publishing"?

Bob Atkins , Nov 11, 2002; 02:15 p.m.

No, I disagree. That's a less interesting question.

Ted Marcus , Nov 11, 2002; 02:46 p.m.

No, I disagree. That's a less interesting question.

Why is that? Relatively few photographers have their work "published" in the traditional sense of selling it to a media conglomerate that prints a book, magazine, calendar, or whatever. A much larger number of photographers put their work on the Web, which is simple, cheap, and doesn't require any intervention from corporate gatekeepers. I don't think whoever is trying to claim "copyright" on the lighted Eiffel Tower and collect licensing fees has contemplated the existence of mass Web "publishing."

It's similar to what I've seen at state parks in California. If you want to shoot pictures for "commercial" use, you need a million dollar liability bond, plus various fees for guides and the cost of cleaning up after your crew, catering trucks, or whatever. In other words, it's meant to defray the costs (and perhaps make some profit) associated with Hollywood production or the disruption of shooting models for commercials, print ads, or whatever.

If I took some pictures at a state park by myself during normal hours, put them up on my Web site, retained the copyright rather than putting them in the public domain, and charge a license fee if someone want to use the picture, is that "commercial" use contemplated by the regulations? Would I have to go back and get a liability bond, pay whatever permit fees they charge, and pay for a private guide I didn't need or use?

I think this is all interesting because public (and private) entities that set up rules for "commercial" photography almost certainly never contemplated the possibility for an amateur to "publish" images on the Web and charge for them after the fact. How this gets resolved can have a major effect on what people can do with images.

In theory, any photograph we're likely to take will include property that belongs either to a private owner or a government. In theory, we should obtain written permission (and pay whatever fees the property owner might want) for every photograph we take, if there's a possibility that the image would be more widely disseminated than a family photo album. Taking this to extremes, we could easily give up photography and make a hobby out of collecting, cataloguing, and storing permission from property owners. It sounds ridiculous, but it's a distinct possibility that photographers with Web sites could find themselves in legal trouble for failing to obtain permission from private or public property owners.

Bob Atkins , Nov 11, 2002; 02:53 p.m.

It's in FRANCE. FRENCH copyright/trademark law will apply. The FRENCH often do things a little "differently". Knowledge of US copyright law is useless in this discussion.

We've been through the topic of US copyright/trademark law at least 1000 times. Every such discussion ends up concluding that the only way to get a definative answer is to actually employ an intellectual property lawyer for each individual case!

Kevin Hundsnurscher , Nov 11, 2002; 03:41 p.m.

I would just say, go ahead and do it anyway and worry about how you're going to publish it later. A couple of key points to consider when deciding about publishing it on the web.

a) How likely is it that the French are going to come across the photo while surfing on the web.
b) How popular would the webpages be?
c) Is the website a commercial site or just a personal homepage with your photos on it?

I had the opportunity to snap some shots in the Alamo last year but didn't for fear of the employees there giving me hard time about it, now I kind of wish I did.

Roger C , Nov 11, 2002; 03:43 p.m.

In France there are much stricter privacy laws. You can't even use a picture of someone's house without their consent (I don't know how this would work in practice - I have a picture in my hallway with about 1,000 Paris rooftops in it!).

Preston Merchant , Nov 11, 2002; 03:44 p.m.

Take your photo, do whatever you want with it, and don't worry about French intellectual property law.

Dave Nance , Nov 11, 2002; 04:35 p.m.

The FAQ at the official web site of the Eiffel Tower also contains the assertion that images of the tower at night are subject to copyright:  http://www.tour-eiffel.fr/teiffel/uk/pratique/faq/index.html

There is a little bit about this question in this thread: http://www.spinics.net/lists/epson/msg10002.html  Apparently the idea is that the design of the lighting used to illuminate the tower is a work of art in itself?

According to a note at this site: http://www.sclpix.co.uk/tinfo2.htm, it is the local electrical utility in Paris, which lights the tower, that claims a copyright as to the patterns created by the lighting on the tower. Says they have actually sued to enforce their claim! Crazy.

I can almost hear Marlon Brando: "Did you ever hear of the Napoleonic code, Stella?"

Paul Purcell , Nov 11, 2002; 05:24 p.m.

The French work week used to be only 37.5 hours (may have dropped even more since...) and they caught someone working longer--so they fined them. Vive la difference....

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