What would London look like without Freedom of Panorama? A letter to MEPs

The letter below was sent to all UK MEPs on 2 July signed by Michael Maggs, Chair of Wikimedia UK … Continue reading “What would London look like without Freedom of Panorama? A letter to MEPs”

  • MichaelMaggs
  • July 2, 2015

The letter below was sent to all UK MEPs on 2 July signed by Michael Maggs, Chair of Wikimedia UK

© User:Colin Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0

What would London look like without Freedom of Panorama?

Who would you need to seek permission from before photographing the skyline?

Dear MEP

I’m writing from Wikimedia UK, the leading UK charity dedicated to providing free knowledge for all and to supporting Wikipedia. I want to ask for your support in protecting the right of photographers and film makers to take pictures of buildings and sculptures in public spaces, and to do what they like with their own images without having to seek permission from any third party copyright owner. This is known as Freedom of Panorama, and it has been a fundamental freedom we in the UK have enjoyed for over a century – a freedom first enshrined in the 1911 Copyright Act.

Freedom of Panorama rights are enjoyed in the majority of EU states, but in a few such as France, Italy and Belgium photographers and film makers have to obtain third party copyright licences and pay fees before they can work in public areas. I want to bring to your attention an attempt by some of your fellow MEPs to harmonise European law to a French-style system of royalties on public spaces. These royalties create funding streams for certain local and regional copyright fee collection societies who are supporting this attempt.

In her own-initiative report on copyright harmonisation, Julia Reda sensibly proposed harmonising full Freedom of Panorama across all EU states. Unfortunately, her proposal has been utterly subverted by M Cavada’s AM 421:

16. Considers that the commercial use of photographs, video footage or other images of works which are permanently located in physical public places should always be subject to prior authorisation from the authors or any proxy acting for them

This amendment would be disastrous. Although its proponents argue that ordinary citizens are non-commercial and would not need to seek licences, that is incorrect. Many citizens use Facebook, Tumblr and other commercial social media sites, and uploads to such sites would put photographers at legal risk, even if no money changes hands.

Non-commercial is not the same as non-profit, and large numbers of educational, charity and academic sites would be affected, including Wikipedia. On Wikipedia alone, huge numbers of existing freely-licensed educational images illustrating the modern built environment would have to be deleted. It’s difficult to estimate numbers, but most probably several hundred thousand.

All EU citizens should be free to document, share and discuss their public architectural heritage.

Full freedom of panorama facilitates the free movement of professional photographers and film makers throughout the EU, as well as attracting international film makers who will otherwise prefer to work in less legally-restrictive countries. Full freedom provides an open market and level playing field for commercial photographic and film activities to take place anywhere, bringing income and employment benefits to local populations.

Architects and sculptors do not want or need the special pleading of the AM 421 wording. They normally work on a commission basis, and where they are designing for a building or sculpture intended for a public place, they know that in advance and can and do negotiate their fee accordingly. Any high-quality building or sculpture in a public place will inevitably attract photographers and film makers, and the fee paid for the commission allows for that. There is no need for special national rules to provide additional payments to architects and sculptors who have already been paid a fair fee for their public works.

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) is against the proposals.

In a letter to the Times (‘Photo bombshell’, 27 June), Chris Wheeldon, a Film Location Manager, pointed out that

“Both domestic and international film makers may justifiably consider it too much of a risk that any building inadvertently overlooked, or so distant as to be almost unrecognisable, could hold the right to prevent the finished film from being seen or hold a financial gun to their heads”.

Italian movie makers have actually left for Spain because of the restrictive copyright rules in their home country.

177,000 people have already signed a petition on Change.org against these restrictions.

Fortunately, a positive AM has recently been proposed by Marietje Schaake & the ALDE group:

Recognises the right to use photographs, video footage or other images of works which are permanently located in public places


Your help is needed now. I hope that you will agree to protect photographers’ freedoms and will:



In a world in which we communicate by taking pictures, Freedom of Panorama is like freedom of speech. Please support those freedoms.

With thanks and best regards

Michael Maggs

Chair, Wikimedia UK


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