Copyright Law

These may be dumb questions on copyright law, but with social software and photography sites being incredibly popular, I can only imagine they’ll come up more and more.

I learned shortly before our trip to Paris that the private company, SNTE, hired by the city of Paris to install flashing lights all over the Eiffel tower has copyrighted the pattern of lights. This effectively makes any photography taken of the Eiffel tower when then lights are flashing a copyright violation. The claim is that this is all to prevent using the likeness in unauthorized ways. Well, let’s pretend it isn’t completely moronic to try and control the likeness of a 100+ year old monument which is the very icon for an entire country.

Sparkling Tower

Copyright violation? Does the effect of the glass window change anything on the copyrighted subject matter?

When we were in Paris, I took lots and lots of photographs of the Eiffel tower. Frankly, it can be hard sometimes to not have the Eiffel tower in your Paris photos; it’s pretty damn tall. Many of my photos were at night, while the lights were dancing about the structure. It’s a pretty amazing effect, actually. The whole thing seems to be made of rare jewels. Anyway, one such photo I took was through the dirty glass window of a boat tour we took. I say that since the dirty glass effectively changes the light pattern, I’m not violating the copyright. Further, couldn’t one argue that air particles, moisture, camera lens, etc. all change the properties of light, therefore changing the image? What about camera motion blur or artsy effects? I mean can you ever expect to copyright a pattern of light? I suppose anything visual is nothing more than a pattern of light, and this argument could be made for music and other art. I’m not really trying to go down that path, but my point is this: isn’t that the way we are heading when copyrights such as this are granted, especially for such widely recognized monuments?

Another photo we have, is of the two of us standing in front of Notre Dame Cathedral. This photo was graciously taken by another tourist, for whom we returned the favor. So, I (an American) have a photo of us taken by an Italian tourist, in France, with my camera. Who holds the copyright? Which countries laws govern? I assume my Italian friend was granted the copyright the instant he pushed the button, at least according to U.S. law. I further assume that where ever the file (or a copy of the file) is located, is under which law governs the copyright. The file is now in America, but what if someone downloads a copy in a country where laws have opt-in style copyright law?

To say the least, I could really care less about copyright law. I’m sure that all these questions have answers, some of which may be conflicting. However, most people taking pictures on vacation don’t know the answers. I for one don’t even care, as I’m going to do whatever I please with my photos. If SNTE or the unnamed Italian tourist would like me to stop using images, they’ll have to just ask politely. Something tells me, I’d hear from the large company long before I’d ever hear from a fellow tourist.