The Freedom to Photograph must be upheld – letters to The Times

  • June 30, 2015
Photo of the London skyline during the daytime with the London Eye blacked out.
If we lose freedom of panorama, Wikipedia could lose images of iconic landmarks such as the London Eye.

Last week there were two  letters to The Times newspaper on the issue of copyright reform and freedom of panorama. These were published on Friday 26 June. One was signed by Michael Maggs as Wikimedia UK Chair, the was signed by several organisations supporting the protection of freedom of panorama. The letters are published below.


Sir, The freedom to take a photograph in a public place, and to do you what like with your own image without having to seek permission from the building’s owner or other rights holder, has been a fundamental part of UK law for more than a century.

It has been suggested that restricting “commercial use” would be acceptable, as that would affect only professional photographers and film makers, but that is not the case. Any private individual who uploads personal photographs to a social media website will be affected, as most sites require users to warrant that their uploads do not not infringe the intellectual property rights of any third party. Anybody using social media to share even private photographs that include a modern building or streetscape within the view will be at significant legal risk.

Before this recent negative proposal, Julia Reda, MEP, had sought to persuade the European Parliament to retain existing freedom of panorama, and to extend it to those European countries that do not currently enjoy those rights. Her original proposal is to be applauded and should be restored.

Michael Maggs
Chairman, Wikimedia UK


Sir, We agree that moves to restrict the freedom to photograph buildings and artworks in public places, currently permitted under section 62 of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988, should give rise to the greatest concern (leader, June 24).

If such a measure is adopted in the future, most websites and most photographers would instantly become copyright infringers with any photo of any public space which features at least one structure designed by a person that is either alive, or died fewer than 70 years ago.

The prohibition would dramatically affect the way we share knowledge, culture and current events, as well as our everyday lives. Tourists would not be able to promote our country with their photographs on commercial websites such as Facebook or Flickr; Wikipedia, which is designed to be free for any use, would not be able to describe our landmarks; and professional photographers would need to contact dozens of rightsholders for any photo they shoot in public spaces, spending more money on paperwork than they can possibly earn with the outcome. Even blogs which have advertising would be affected.

We urge all UK MEPs to vote not to let the current paragraph 16 go through unamended during the vote in the plenary session in Strasbourg on July 9, and to defend our right to make and use photos of public spaces.

Paul Herrmann, chairman, British Photographic Council; Jeff Moore, chairman, British Press Photographers’ Association; Denise Swanson, British Institute of Professional Photographers; Jimmy Wales, founder, Wikipedia; Nigel Atherton, editor, Amateur Photographer; Stewart Gibson, Bureau of Freelance Photographers; Dominic Cooper, general secretary, Chartered Institute of Journalists; Alastair McCapra, chief executive, Chartered Institute of Public Relations; Jim Killock, executive director, Open Rights Group

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