Freedom of Panorama FAQs

Freedom of Panorama FAQs

What is Freedom of Panorama? What are the European Commission proposing? And why does it matter? Read our FAQs to find out.

We're asking people to tag images on social media like Instagram and photo sharing sites like Flickr with #SaveFoP. Find out what's going on and why we're campaigning on this.

1. What is Freedom of Panorama?
Freedom of Panorama is an exception in copyright law that makes sure a license is not necessary when a photograph of public art and architecture is taken and used. The exception is usually only for works on permanent public display, meaning mostly buildings and statues.

2. Do we have Freedom of Panorama in the UK?
The UK currently has a panorama exception in place allowing for both commercial and non-commercial uses of representation of public architecture and art. People using or taking pictures of British landmarks don't infringe on copyright at the moment - so long as the pictures are only distributed in the UK. If you publish them on the Internet, you could infringe copyright when those images are viewed in another country, like France or Belgium. We think this is absurd.

The situation varies wildly across the EU. Some countries have a flexible system like the UK, while others allow the publication of pictures of public artworks, but only for non-commercial purposes. Some only allow sculptures but not architecture and some have no Freedom of Panorama at all.

3. If this becomes law, what would it mean in practice?
The European Commission has not made very clear what they want. There is a drive to harmonise panorama laws across EU. This could be a good thing if this means more flexibiity and an end to the messy patchwork of national laws. But it could be bad news if the restrictive models applied in some countries become law everywhere in Europe. One particular concern is the imposition of a common rule allowing only non-commercial panorama exceptions.

The Commission needs to make pictures lawful across the EU. A patchwork of different rules cannot work in the Internet age, and making holiday snaps liable to infringement claims risks making a mockery of copyright laws.

4. Why is allowing only non-commercial use a problem?
Establishing what is non-commercial is harder than it sounds. In principle, the main difference between commercial and non-commercial use is generating a profit. If you take a picture and don't use it to make money but put it in a blog with banner advertising you may be deemed a commercial user. It is not completely clear whether a non-profit organisation raising funds is a commercial activity.

Even if you take a picture just for your own purposes, you might still get into trouble by sharing it on Facebook or Instagram. Social media companies routinely ask for your permission to use your pictures and videos for commercial purposes when you first sign up with them. By using social media, your pictures could become a commercial asset, potentially making you at least partially responsible for any infringement.

5. Can I be taken to court?
Even though the UK has a panorama exception and you are a British resident, you could be taken to court abroad for panorama infringement in other EU countries. Let's say you take pictures of French buildings or public art and upload your photos to your social media account. If your pictures are available in France a French court could claim jurisdiction.

British residents might also be taken to court in the UK by a French copyright holder for pictures taken in France. In this case British residents would be sued in the UK under French law.

To make matters worse, as a British resident you could even be sued in another country for taking pictures of UK public art, if these images are accessible in a country where panorama is not allowed.

Image credit:
Tower Bridge at Dawn CC BY-SA 4.0. Edited version. CC BY-SA 4.0