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.