1709 Blog: for all the copyright community

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

The new, but narrow, French freedom of panorama exception


The French law for a Digital Republic (Loi pour une République Numérique) finally came into force on October 7. Its article 39 modifies article L. 122-5 of the French intellectual property Code, which now recognizes some limited freedom of panorama rights. It is now legal in France to reproduce and to represent, without having to secure the authorization of the copyright holder, “architectural works and sculptures, located permanently on public roads, made by natural persons to the exclusion of commercial uses."

« Les reproductions et représentations d'œuvres architecturales et de sculptures, placées en permanence sur la voie publique, réalisées par des personnes physiques, à l'exclusion de tout usage à caractère commercial. »

The law does not define however, what is a “commercial use,” and reading the congressional records is not of much help.
France’s lower Chamber, the Assemblée Nationale, had added a freedom of panorama right to the original bill, presented by junior minister Axelle Lemaire. Its scope was broader than the freedom of panorama exception finally enacted, as it would have authorized reproduction of “architectural works and sculptures, located permanently on public roads, made by natural persons for non-profit purposes" (see article 18 ter of the bill).

« Les reproductions et représentations d’œuvres architecturales et de sculptures, placées en permanence sur la voie publique, réalisées par des particuliers à des fins non lucratives. »

The French Senate changed the wording for this exception, narrowing it somewhat as it would have only authorized “reproductions and representations of architectural works and sculptures, located permanently on public roads, made by individuals, excluding any use for direct or indirect commercial nature" (see article 18 ter of the bill).

« Les reproductions et représentations d'œuvres architecturales et de sculptures, placées en permanence sur la voie publique, réalisées par des personnes physiques, à l'exclusion de tout usage à caractère directement ou indirectement commercial. »

Then the Commission mixte paritaire, a commission composed of seven Representatives and seven Senators whose duty is to find a compromise on the text of a bill in case both Chambers differ in their views, yet again changed the wording for this freedom of panorama exception. It was only provided from now on if “made by natural persons to the exclusion of commercial uses."

« Les reproductions et représentations d'œuvres architecturales et de sculptures, placées en permanence sur la voie publique, réalisées par des personnes physiques, à l'exclusion de tout usage à caractère commercial. »

This still leaves us in the limbo as to what exactly is “commercial use.” Unfortunately, we cannot turn to the European Union law for guidance as to its signification. Indeed, article 5.3(h) of the Directive 2001/29/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 May 2001 on the harmonisation of certain aspects of copyright and related rights in the information society (the “InfoSoc Directive”) gives Member States latitude to have or not have a freedom of panorama exception for “use of works, such as works of architecture or sculpture, made to be located permanently in public places,” but does not mention nor define commercial use.

Not having a definition of what must be considered to be a commercial use will undoubtedly chill the enthusiasm of photographers, who may hesitate to post on their web sites, blogs, or on social media, the images they have taken of buildings, houses, statues, churches, or fountains located in public spaces.

It is not even clear from the wording of the French law if it is only the individual who took the picture who must not benefit commercially for this use, or if anybody, including any platforms, must not benefit from that use. Many web sites or blogs, while not commercial, are participating in advertising programs.  Some bloggers are using a free blogging program, such as wordpress.com, which runs ads on free blogs to cover their costs. In this case, it is the platform which benefits from the ads, not the blogger. It could also be argued that blogging platforms and social media sites commercially benefit, albeit indirectly, from all that User Generated Content uploaded on their sites, images of French public buildings and sculptures included. Will it take a lawsuit to clarify how the law must be interpreted? On va voir…



Image is courtesy of Flickr user Kyriazis under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

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