Eiffel Tower “copyright”: I didn’t

Just saying:  If you thought I fell for that spin last week that went along the lines of “it’s against the law to take a picture of the Eiffel Tower at night” — well, no, I didn’t.  (And don’t write to me at [email protected] either to debate with me about it!!

Let’s first get things first here, first.

A good summary of the case being claimed is this:

Although the Eiffel Tower was built in 1889, placing it in the public domain by virtue of its age, the light show was added to the tower later and is subject to copyright laws. As such, it’s technically illegal to share pictures of the tower’s light show on Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, and other platforms, even if it’s your own, original photo. The same rules apply for other famous landmarks in Italy, Belgium, and France. The Atomium in Belgium, for example, is also protected under copyright.

That is pretty consistent with what the folks over at the “Tour Eiffel” (as they call it in Canadian) say as well.

But okay, that — the claim of right — was really not first things, then, right?  First things was, if you read very closely, that the article above refers to places with names like “Italy, Belgium and France.”  I don’t know what the law is in Italy, Belgium or France, or even how copyright in these faraway lands differs from regular American copyright.  (Evidently, this Tour Eiffel is actually located in one of these foreign countries.)  But based on how I’m seeing this story treated, it appears to be comparable enough to what we know about regular (American, that is) copyright that, being Americans, we can blow right past that and start poking around at this story.

This is, first of all, not so much news.  Here’s a post from that very fine poker of the pokable, Mike Masnick at TechDirt that is almost ten years old (February 2005):

Is The Eiffel Tower Copyrighted?

from the wait-a-minute… dept

Well, here’s the latest in a series of bizarre stories about intellectual property concepts gone ridiculous. Apparently, the city of Paris retook possession of the Eiffel Tower in 2003 and decided that they’d had enough of its likeness being in the public domain. So, what do you do? You change the lighting on it, copyright the new light display and voila, all nighttime photos of the Eiffel Tower are now illegal without a license. This serves what beneficial purpose exactly? It’s hard to see how a photograph of a building that can be seen for miles around could be copyrighted in any way or what that could possibly serve any legitimate intellectual property purpose. It certainly sounds too bizarre to be true.

And it pretty much is.  But I am saving the punchline for a minute.

Courthouse, Eastern District of New YorkFirst, a little primer on a topic that happens to be not quite as old as the so-called Tour Eiffel but is still a venerable LIKELIHOOD OF CONFUSION® favorite:  Intellectual property claims in the public appearance of buildings, first discussed in the context of claims that Taiwanese skyscraper Taipei 101 is protected by trademark, later concerning the whole jumble of building “fame” rights that might be asserted in and around New York City, and, later, in the context of such claims surrounding Seattle’s Space Needle.

I should have also addressed this beauty, which came up in my neighborhood last summer — but, again, I’ll defer to Masnick:

NY Port Authority Claims To Own The NYC Skyline: Tells Store To Destroy Skyline-Themed Plates
from the your-bullying-is-of-great-concern dept

What is it with insane NY-related bureaucrats and their attempts to “own” things? In the past, we’ve covered how New York State is a pretty big trademark bully over the “I ? NY” phrase, and did you know that the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) claims ownership over the phrase “If you see something, say something”? And, now, we find out that the controversy-ridden Port Authority of NY and NJ appears to be claiming ownership of the NYC skyline. No joke. It apparently sent a cease-and-desist letter to Fishs Eddy, a housewares store in Manhattan that is selling some city themed dishes.

According to the Port Authority, Fishs Eddy can’t do that, because, dammit, only the Port Authority owns some of those buildings and bridges.

In a letter to Fishs Eddy dated July 24, Veronica Rodriguez, a lawyer for the authority, asked the store to stop selling anything with these “assets” on them, and to “destroy all materials, documents and other items bearing the assets.”

“Your use of the Port Authority’s assets on dinnerware and other items is of great concern to the Port Authority,” she wrote.

Yes, and your use of stupid bullying tactics over people celebrating your city is of great concern to pretty much everyone else. What sort of life must you lead to spend your work life looking for people to bully for daring to sell merchandise that celebrates the city you technically work for?

Ah yes… the entrepreneurial-as-ever Portal ‘Thority.  But I digress.

Anyway, yeah:  No.  No, you can’t restrict, in a non-commy’nist-country, the right of people to take pictures of public places in public spaces.  This was even recognized to apply in the context of security concerns when, in 2010, the feds acknowledged that they could not prevent Muricans from taking pictures of the outside of federal courthouses seeing as how they are, after all, outside.

Pierre Eric Spitz statement - Eiffel Tower CopyrightNow, Paris, France, is not Murica, but all the same, I think it’s going to come out more or less the same regarding the Eiffel Tower.  I don’t just think it, in fact:  I know it, because M. Pierre Eric Spitz (yes, that’s his tweet embedded above), Directeur général de la société d’exploitation de la Tour Eiffel, says so — right here on, of all places, Facebook:

November 14 at 1:20pm · Daily Express ·

Pierre Eric Spitz · DG ou CEO at Tour Eiffel
The « Société d’Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel » (The Eiffel Tower operating company) deplores the unfunded rumor shared in the media concerning the monument’s lighting copyright policy.
If it’s true that the illumination of the Eiffel Tower is protected by copyright, only professional or commercial use of these images is subject to prior request from the Société d’Exploitation de la tour Eiffel and may induce a fee.
However, personal use of these images, shared by individuals on social media such as facebook, is entirely rights-free and doesn’t need any prior request from the Sociéte exploitation de la tour Eiffel. 
On the contrary, the SETE is glad to see the happiness of its visitors sharing their day and night souvenir of the monument. ERic SPITZ CEO of the eiffel Tower

So, you see, the panic was all — all of it! — how you say?

Unfunded.

But… of course.

Ron Coleman

I write this blog.

2 Replies to “Eiffel Tower “copyright”: I didn’t

Comments are closed.