Over the past week, the people of Europe have spoken loud and clear: No to restricting freedom of panorama, no to royalties on public space.

More than 200,000 people (and counting) are supporting a petition against these ideas. 4,247 German Wikipedians signed an open letter. At least 11 professional organisations representing creators have renounced the proposal.

cc-by-sa photo: Ralf Roletschek; editing: Romaine, c3o; icon: anbileru adaleru

Where did this idea come from in the first place?

I’ve been asked many times: Beyond MEP Jean-Marie Cavada (who filed the amendment), who is really behind this attack on the rights of the public and of artists who work in public spaces? Which evil lobby concocted this plan and convinced the big political groups to vote it into my copyright report with sacks of money or ninja arguments?

If only the truth were that simple. What actually happened is, in fact, even more cause for concern: Nobody mounted a specific attack on freedom of panorama. No such effort was required.

The approval of this amendment is the logical conclusion of the stance on copyright that prevails among the majority of my colleagues. Tweet this!

They didn’t specifically decide to vote against this right – they simply extended to this amendment the same attitude and convictions they apply to all copyright reform issues.

When MEPs in the Legal Affairs Committee approved this idea, they believed themselves the protectors of artists, defending creators from exploitation.
So what is at the source of this discrepancy between intent and effect?

1) They still don’t get the cultural shift caused by the Internet

When they voted, many of these MEPs had in mind postcard producers getting rich off the fruits of someone else’s artistic labor. They have yet to fully grasp the fundamental shift that has happened over the last decades:

Taking holiday snaps used to be a private activity untouched by copyright law: You returned home, had your photos developed and stuck them into a photo album to be shown to your close family. No lawyer would ever get to scrutinise them. But today preserving an experience involves making your creative work – which is likely to include elements of other people’s works – available to the public on the global internet, using a commercial service.

Copyright today applies to us all, restricting activities that cause no harm to creators. Tweet this!

Suddenly, laws that used to apply only to the few with a printing press, a record cutter and a profit motive apply to every single one of us and threaten everday activities that cause no actual harm to rightholders.

But instead of adjusting these laws to again fit their intended purpose, politicans are outdoing each other to proclaim that “we must not weaken the protection of artists (or their estates, given that copyright protection outlives humans by 70 years) while making criminals of all people – and the next generation of creators.

2) Internet companies must be evil

One thing some do notice about the web is: Internet companies based overseas appear to be rich, while “our” artists are – on average – as poor as they’ve been throughout history. Aha! Let’s just get internet services to pay up for all the instances where modern people’s behavior conflicts with last century’s laws. Several successful amendments to my report reflect this conviction that online services are parasitic foreigners sucking the lifeblood from our precious culture.

But there is no causal relationship between these facts: Facebook’s or Instagram’s business model is not to take the photos that users upload and get rich off of selling prints, stealing revenue from… the architects of the buildings depicted therein (?!). They are playing the role the photo developer and the photo album maker used to play – but in providing this as an ad-supported service, they’ve found someone who will pay them not just once, but continuously. What they provide is still general-purpose infrastructure: They’re no more “profiting unfairly off architects’ works” than the electricity company powering both their server farm and the nightly recharge of their users’ photo-taking devices.

3) Users vs. authors: Fight!?

The accusation most commonly lobbed at me was that my draft report sided with users, and must thus automatically be attacking artists’ interests – a false dichotomy.

To supposedly mitigate this, MEPs filed dozens of amendments liberally and rather indiscriminately sprinkling phrases like “while ensuring the fair remuneration of authors” over my proposals “to restore balance”.

As a result, they ended up recommending attaching a price tag to fundamental rights like the freedom of press (artists must be remunerated in return, the report now states) – or, in this case, restricing the rights of photographers and videographers who work in public spaces.

It was in this same vein that the majority rejected to cite in the report the findings of the United Nations’ special rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, who told the Legal Affairs Comittee last month that far from being an attack on authors’ livelihoods, exceptions and limitations to copyright in fact play a vital role in ensuring human rights, particularly the right to the protection of authorship. Her appeal fell on deaf ears.

“Protecting artists” does not just mean locking away past creations, but also enabling new ones. Tweet this!

There is no majority in Parliament for the realisation that the rights to interact with existing works are also core enablers of new art, and that “protecting artists” does not just mean securely locking away the works of those with publishing contracts, but also, crucially, enabling the filmmaker to document public space and the YouTube kid to experiment with mashups. (The Committee rejected my proposal to extend quotation rights to video bloggers and podcasters across Europe.)

Effectively, legislators are siding entirely with existing art, made by the few lucky enough to profit from yesterday’s business models, at the expense of the new and independent, which modern technology and connectivity enables the many to create and share.

Imagine how confusing it must be to them that 200,000 creators are suddenly siding with my proposal over their attempt to protect them from me. I can only hope that this will trigger them to reconsider this false dichotomy, which those profiting from the status quo are tirelessly promoting.

The opposition is mounting

With their vote to restrict freedom of panorama, MEPs took the application of their outdated world view one step too far.

The Royal Institute of British Architects – representing the main beneficiaries-to-be of the proposed change – were the first to quickly denounce the plans: Thanks, but no thanks – they support the extensive freedom of panorama that currently exists in the UK.

A number of professional organisations of creators from all across Europe have joined them in rejecting the proposal:

With all this public outcry, it didn’t take long for cracks to appear in the unity of each of the supporting policial groups:

The Socialists and Democrats – the second-largest Parliamentary group – were among those who approved the amendment in the Legal Affairs Comittee. Yet nine days later, British MEPs called it “a bad proposal” that “Labour MEPs are working to make sure is rejected”. This plan was seconded by Austrian Social Democrat Evelyn Regner.

Germany’s conservative CSU sent out a statement by their internet policy working group, calling the proposal – which their European People’s Party colleagues in the Legal Affairs Committee voted for – “sheer nonsense“. Austrian EPP member Köstinger also expressed her disapproval.

In the liberal ALDE group, Cavada’s German colleagues of the FDP launched a campaign supporting my original proposal over the idea by their own group’s spokesperson. And they didn’t mince words: “The bureaucracy-addicted in Brussels have hatched a new crackpot idea”, they quipped.

Only Cavada and collecting societies are digging their heels in

Jean-Marie Cavada, the person responsible for all of this, clarified his intent while digging in his heels: Users weren’t in his aim, he professed on his blog – but internet platforms must certainly pay up. Which internet platforms? Well, for example Wikipedia, who he called “a US monopoly” and described as acting “to the detriment of the entire European cultural sector”.

European collecting society alliances GESAC and EVA, meanwhile, are circulating a flyer full of misrepresentations demanding that MEPs stick to the attack on freedom of panorama in the upcoming plenary sitting on July 9th. It is these organisations who not just share, but fuel the world view detailed above. Wikipedia has put together a thorough debunking of their claims.

Don’t blame the EU for your MEPs

Hundreds of news outlets reported on freedom of panorama over the past week, and the news is still spreading. It’s great and important that the European public is informed about plans debated at the EU level – even if they’re not yet draft laws, a fact that was unfortuntately too often misunderstood or misrepresented.

But then there were the yellow-press rags and right-wing populists who jumped on this opportunity to bash the European Union. I want to make it very clear: This idea was hatched by representatives elected by the people, and passed (so far) by representatives elected by the people. No shadowy bureaucrats were involved. If you want to prevent situations like this one, elect better representatives – and stay involved. We must not allow national parties to misplace the blame for their own unpopular decisions (or mistakes) on some nebulous EU strawman.

We need European integration on copyright – just not based on yesterday’s models.Tweet this!

Having 28 different copyright regimes on one continent – a state valiantly defended by many MEPs in their amendments to my report – is an idea destined for the dustbin of history. The web doesn’t stop at borders. We need European integration and harmonisation on copyright and other internet policy issues – just not based on models from the 20th century.

But let me end on a high note:

Thanks to your continued efforts, I’m confident we’ll be able to eliminate the misguided idea to restrict freedom of panorama from the report on July 9th.

I just wish I could say the same of the thinking behind it.

To the extent possible under law, the creator has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to this work.


  1. 1


    Maybe the MEPS are not to blame (you can’t blame stupids for being stupid can you, it’s just Darwinian evolution at work). But you see what you get if you transfer democratic rights to a larger body. You get the common denominator of all the stupidity national politicians (of all sorts as we clearly see) can produce, and that may in fact be worse for the common citisen then the crap coming out of all our nations capitals.

    Think about recent developments:

    1) Roaming costs were curbed by the EU parliament to be amended by the council of ministers…

    2) A sane proposal (Pirates have had no time to “verblöden”, so keep up the good work) was amended into the opposite…

    Now I can understand the rights of creators, as a photographer myself I will not photograph works of art, not as part of my picture or as my picture unless someone (for instance the artist) wants me to document his art. Derivative art is somewhat overused these days.

    When I create a stunning composition (not that I do that that often, allas) of a building (that has usually fallen in disrepair) I however consider it my work…..since the original architect never created the industrial complexes, sheds (hell even sheds have architects) and other urban sprawl, with beauty in mind. These building had to be functional en beauty was created by time, and luck, and a skilled photographer.

    For instance what would Bern and Hilla Becher have been doing under this law. What does their estate have to do now. And Thomas Struth’s Düsseldorfer streets…….Sommerstrasse and all. In what lies the skill of the architects and in what the skill of the photographer.

    This freedom of Panorama act was a great way of saying……we the citisens of the world own the public space. There is enough encrochment on this ownership (commercials, logo’s etc) as it is. I have to edit my photo’s carefully not to contain logo’s for instance because companies can be offende by the use of their logo (which they push in my face, neon and all) in a picture……even in Germany with liberal (eh, wel, you get the drift) and expres that in court, succesfully.

    So keep up the good work Julia and the rest of the pirates….this is not a case of protecting starving artists, it’s a case of protecting an art, namely photography!

    Greets, Ed.

    • next_ghost

      Politicians will create crap like this on any political level. They make decisions about things they’ve never heard of in their entire lives and since they’re on average 50-60 years old, they often solve problems that existed 20 years ago (that was the time of their last contact with reality before focusing on their political career). When politicians do something stupid that has impact on us, it’s our duty as citizens to explain the problem to them. If they refuse to listen, they’re not stupid, they’re ignorant. The only known cure for ignorance is public ridicule.

  2. 2
    Neil Sutherland

    It’s not going to help the case for keeping the UK in the EU if MEPs insist on promoting policies that the popular press and citizens at large will see as ridiculous. In the Great British Pub the proposal to end FoP will be mentioned in the same breath as ‘outlawing bent bananas’ and the ‘eurosausage’ – also the ideas of a few out-of-touch individuals that never became EU policy

  3. 3
    Gary Walker

    Julia, please don’t distance ridiculous proposals in parliament from the EU. The parliament and the EU are one and the same.

    What would you say if a proposal came along that suggested a fisheries policy where only certain types of fish could be caught in certain areas of EU waters and the “wrong” fish that were caught in the same nets as the “right” fish, should be thrown over the sides of the boats, dead?

    What would you say if a proposal came along that suggested a currency union between member states as diverse as say, Greece and Germany?

    These things are no less silly than Jean-Marie Cavada’s amendment and have been much, much more destructive. Yet, in the strange, Soviet-esque world of the Europhile, the very real, abject failure of the EU is simply ignored and instead, a nebulous fiction of “successes” is celebrated.

    Hopefully, we in Britain will watch this slow motion train wreck from outside the disaster zone in a few years.

    • Christopher Clay

      We wish the Parliament and the EU were one and the same :) There is much room for valid criticism of the Commission, which proposes the laws. But the Parliament is made up entirely of people elected by us Europeans, and the Council represents the member states’ governments directly. When the Parliament dreams up bad ideas like this one, or when the Council kills good ideas (like the end of roaming or the guarantee of net neurality), it’s important to correctly name those at fault, rather than blaming “the EU” or even European integration as a concept.

      Too often, politicans abuse the fact that there is comparatively little national media (and citizen) interest in processes at the European level to shift the blame on issues they’ve had their hands in away from them.

    • Well said, Gary. When the train is wrecked, you’ll be able to go back to the old method of settling disputes between European countries which has worked perfectly well for centuries – war.

  4. 4
    Mike Wardle

    Having spent a lifetime involved in patents and design copywriter I can understand the creator or owner trying to capitalise on their work. But displaying creations in a public place implies the public will be able to collect images. The only way to prevent this it hide the creation.
    Sharing images of Panorama is popular and unpreventable. Banning the sharing of such images more bother than it is worth. Long live FOP!

  5. 5

    Good work, keep it up.

  6. 6

    Hi Julia, thank you for providing insight on this issue. I am happy that there are some awake and a pirate MEPs in the EC. Please inform you fellow MEP’s on the big concern amongst the EU citizens on this proposal (and we only know what is out there..)
    PLease keep sharing your information and insights.
    Sander, Amsterdam

  7. 7
    Valter Pontes

    Let’s ban the logos and copyright buildings in public spaces because they destroy the natural landscape let’s our panorama be free from these blood suckers monstersand force the to take down their advertisements from public view, maybe these greedy copyright lobbys will change their ideas… MEP s don’t represent the people they in fact represent lobbies and other bullocks and everything wrong in Europe…in fact they froget the people they say representing… They aren’t our voice.

    • Christopher Clay

      MEP Julia Reda does represent the people :) As do many others.

  8. 8
    Sean Harkin

    Can someone knock up a prior authorisation Template for Architecture and Art. Just to see how they cope with getting thousands of requests to use the image of their building/s in a photograph. if you work out that it may take an hour to process the request, this will cause a massive backlog for Councils all over the UK! welcome to red tape!

  9. 9

    I asked Jean-Marie Cavada about all this, and the usage of a potentially copyrighted building photography on it’s own blog. As well as for it’s photography.

    You know, you have been photographed, by a professional. But under the current law, you don’t have the right to use these photos without explicit consent of the photographer, in France. It’s sad it doesn’t undrstand what he’s doing harm to many people, including travelers, pro photograhers that don’t care about a building but just the view, or even a model in front of it, all of them being more advertiser for the great works of awesome architects than living from their works!

  10. 10

    Is there no way to find a balance that would both protect the artists and make sure that the general person can still post pictures on Facebook etc. without danger of being sued? I think that would be a really worthwhile nut to crack.

    As far as I can see, the list of “professional organisations of creators from all across Europe [who] have joined [them] in rejecting the proposal” does not include any artists, only makers of photos/films that would feature the artists’ works. What is the artists’ stance?

    And, yes, there may be more than 200,000 supporters of the petition, but how many are actually against it? Also, in my own discussions of the topic, a lot of people (by far the bigger part, in fact) who support the petition got their facts entirely wrong. For example, they confuse privacy laws with copyright/trademark regulations; they believe asking for permission is the same as having to pay a fee; they believe that the proposed law would “ban” or “prohibit” taking photographs of artists’ work in public space; and/or they believe that the proposed law also threatens posting photos on entirely private websites without any commercial aspects, such as people’s own websites. Even if well-intentioned, and shooting for the right outcome, I wonder how many supported the petition for the wrong reasons.

    Here is a scenario: imagine some random person taking pictures of an artist’s creations and selling photo books, calendars, and prints, without any compensation, while the artist is trying to sell her own publications. The person tells the artist that it’s perfectly legal, and that she can’t do anything about it, other than pack up and go somewhere else. The artist asks whether this is fair, considering that selling these items wouldn’t be possible if the artist hadn’t created these works in the first place. I wonder if the FoP supporters could come up with an answer that doesn’t make them look like total jerks.

    I don’t think there can be any doubt that FoP disadvantages artists. No matter how you look at it, money is generated from artists’ works by others, and it doesn’t flow in the artists’ direction. But at the same time, the absence of FoP may unreasonably burden the general person who just wants to snap pictures without commercial intent.

    To me, neither FoP nor no FoP seems entirely fair.

  11. 11

    As a former photojournalist and artist I wish to say thank you and well done you!! please keep it up :) We already have way to many stupid laws removing our freedoms and rights as human beings, we don’t need any more.

    Definition of public in English: adjective
    Open to or shared by all the people of an area or country

    As for artists displaying their works in a public place and have a problem with people photographing said artwork and making profit from them I have a simple message for you. Don’t display your artwork in public place, display them private galleries, or spaces that adhere to copyright notices, places where they cant be photographed and so on, have them published in books etc which can be sold for a profit.

    If for example I take a photo of a riot and there happens to be the Eiffel tower in the background with some so called “Artists” fairy lights on display, all I can say is tough! I will be paid money for the photo of the riot, not for the picture of the Eiffel tower. Besides what makes an artist think that we actually want to photograph their artwork “in a public space” or even be forced to look at it? 90% of the time you photograph it because its incidental, it just happens to to be in the background. As an example I do not consider the London Eye to be a work of art.

    Lots of so called public artwork is forced on people, we do not ask for it and therefore why should we suffer another draconian law because of it, again if you don’t like it, don’t display it in public! Also if the artwork is on display in a public area then you have more than likely already been paid for it with public funds, which is paid for by members of the public’s taxes! Why should the members of the public have to pay twice?

    And if you want protecting from facebook making a profit then it’s facebook who should be forced to change it’s rules or follow specific copyright laws made for them and not everyone else!

  12. 12

    I say this to the `muisguided` person behind this possible besotting of misery upon millions of photograpers/videographers, i.e. `Jean-Marie Cavada, the person responsible for all of this, clarified his intent while digging in his heels`: Oh! really Mr Cavada, well millions of photographers/videographers are `ALSO` digging their heels in Mr Cavada, what the hell gives `YOU` the right (as you are in a minority) to impose `DRACONIAN` photography laws upon `MILLIONS` of photographers `Europe-Wide`? i never voted for you, i have never even heard of you, i suggest Mr Cavada that you pack your cases and go for a visit to North Korea and see what restrictions regarding the photography there is, you will (hopefully) be shocked, or perhaps looking at your stupid Copyright proposal law for taking photography rights away from millions, might be a happy little man at what you would like to do to us, i would therefore Mr Cavada `STRONGLY` suggest that you visit Kim Jong Un (N/Korean Dictator) and ask him for a pass to live in his Country `PERMANENTLY` And dont come back! as we feel the E.U. would be a far better place without the likes of `YOU`!!!!!!

  13. 13
    Peter Laman

    Copyright has run out of hand completely. If I go to London to take a picture of Westminster, that ugly London eye is in the way and it spoils the image. I don’t even want it to be on my photograph, let alone pay for it, only because someone without a sense for beauty has put that ugly thing in the way!
    There’s an old mafia practice to post a guy by your parked car and force you to pay for ‘protecting’ the car. You didn’t ask for that, just like you didn’t ask for that London eye to spoil your photograph. It’s rediculous to have to pay for that.

    More seriously, there’s a huge difference between the panorama exception and copyrighting, say, music, books or movies. Music recordings, books and movies can easily be copied and distributed, causing a real loss of income for the artists. It’s really hard to copy and distribute the London eye, or a building designed by a famous architect! Besides, anyone can travel to London and see the London eye FOR FREE, assuming anyone would ever want to see this piece of steel. Anyone can go to see a famous building FOR FREE. Taking a picture doesn’t cause a loss of income to any artist, so the ‘protection’ argument is sheer nonsense. There’s just no rationale for this not being free. Oh, no, now I realise the next stupid step would be to make you pay for every street you walk into, because you will see the buildings there. If removing the panorama exception makes sense, this will also makes sense.

    Another valid question is: if we draw the line further, we won’t even be able to take pictures of any person for free anymore, unless that person is naked… You’d have to pay the fashion designer of any clothes this person wears!

    Please continue to stop the folly of all this. Copyright should be restricted to what the word actually says: COPYright. Taking a picture of a building is not making a copy of that building. It’s just a picture. Copying a CD is really making a copy. That’s a completely different thing.