Will the European Parliament criminalize street photography?

Timothy Vollmer, July 7th, 2015

Tower Bridge view at dawn, by Colin, CC BY-SA

Tower Bridge view at dawn. Modified to censor buildings that require Freedom of Panorama, by Colin, CC BY-SA

Over the last several months, Creative Commons has been following the review of the European Union copyright directive. One issue that has remained contentious is freedom of panorama. Freedom of panorama permits taking and publishing photographs and video of buildings, landmarks, and artworks permanently located in a public public place, without infringing on any copyright that might rest in the underlying work. For example, anyone may take and publish a photograph of the Torre Agbar in Barcelona without having to get permission from the rightsholder of the physical building. While some countries such as Spain, Poland, and the Netherlands enjoy freedom of panorama, others such as Italy, France, and Greece require that a photographer get permission for taking and sharing images of works in public spaces.

German Pirate Party MEP Julia Reda has been tasked with developing a report that will make recommendations for potential legislative changes to EU copyright law. Reda’s report has been discussed widely, and last month the legal affairs committee of the European Parliament voted on amendments to her report, which resulted in a compromise text. On July 9, this report (and any amendments to it) will be voted on in the full EU Parliament.

The outcome of the legal affairs committee vote produced some positive actions for copyright reform in support of users and the public interest. For example, the compromise text introduced exceptions to copyright in the EU for libraries to digitize collections and lend ebooks, and for scientists and others to conduct text and data mining without needing an extra license to do so. The report also called on the European Commission to protect the public domain by clarifying that “once a work is in the public domain, any digitisation of the work which does not constitute a new, transformative work, stays in the public domain.”

Reda’s original proposal contained a provision that would have granted freedom of panorama throughout the EU. But an amendment passed by the legal affairs committee says that anyone who wants to take and share photography or video of public buildings and landmarks can only do so for non-commercial purposes. Reda calls the rule “absurd”:

This would restrict existing rights in many EU member states, introduce new legal uncertainty for many creators and even call the legality of many photos shared on commercial photo sharing platforms like Instagram and Flickr into question. Documentary filmmakers, for example, would have to research the copyright protection status of every building, statue or even graffiti on a public wall depicted in their movie – and seek the permission of each rightholder.

The consequences of adopting copyright rules that limit freedom of panorama to only non-commercial uses could make every vacationing photographer a criminal in the eyes of the law. The change would also be damaging to the commons, especially for a community like Wikipedia, which requires that photos and videos uploaded for use on the site be made available under free licenses that permit commercial use. As the Wikimedia Foundation notes, “the version of freedom of panorama now under consideration is not compatible with Wikimedia’s goal to broadly share knowledge. If this amendment became law, it would be more difficult for users to freely share photos of public spaces. It would be a step backwards in revamping the EU’s copyright rules for the digital age.” If this provision goes into effect, thousands of photos on Wikimedia Commons likely would have to be removed.

But you can help! Sign the petition to bring bring the freedom of panorama to all member states of the EU. Citizens of the EU can also contact their MEPs to let them know how you would like them to vote. Owen Blacker says there are two things to ask of MEPs:

1) Please support amendment A8–0209/3 by Marietje Schaake, to restore the meaning of the original text which extends liberal freedom of panorama to all EU member states;

2) Should Schaake’s amendment fail, then please vote to remove paragraph 46 from the report altogether.

The public should have the right to use photographs, video footage and other images of works permanently located in public spaces. Let’s support, extend, and protect the freedom of panorama across the European Union.


European Commission launches “Opening Up Education” initiative

Timothy Vollmer, September 25th, 2013

European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes and Commission Member Androulla Vassiliou today announced Opening Up Education, an initiative that looks to increase the use of digital technologies for learning and spur the development of Open Educational Resources and policies across the European Union.

The Opening Up Education communication (PDF) indicates a strong support for Open Educational Resources. On the subject of OER, the Commission will:

  • Ensure that all educational materials supported by Erasmus+ are available to the public under open licenses and promote similar practices under EU programmes;
  • Use the new programmes Erasmus+ and Horizon 2020 to encourage partnerships between creators of educational content (e.g. teachers, publishers, ICT companies), to increase the supply of quality OER and other digital educational materials in different languages, to develop new business models and to develop technical solutions which provide
    transparent information on copyrights and open licenses to users of digital educational resources;
  • Launch with this Communication the Open Education Europa portal linking it to existing OER repositories in different languages and bringing learners, teachers and researchers together, so to improve the attractiveness and visibility of quality OERs produced in the EU.

The communication also urged Member States and education institutions to:

  • Stimulate open access policies for publicly-funded educational materials;
  • Encourage formal education and training institutions to include digital content, including OERs, among the recommended educational materials for learners at all educational levels and encourage the production, including through public procurement, of high-quality educational materials whose copyrights would belong to public authorities.

portal small

Kroes and Vassiliou also introduced Open Education Europa, a portal for high quality OER available in a variety of languages. The default licensing for the resources in the portal is CC BY.

The communication document defined OER as “learning resources that are usable, adaptable to specific learning needs, and shareable freely.” We think that it would be better for the Commission to adopt the longstanding and well-understood OER definition promoted by the Hewlett Foundation, which defines OER as “teaching, learning, and research materials in any medium that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others.”

Creative Commons provided feedback last year when the Commission was gathering information from stakeholders on how to proceed around the issues of ICT and OER. Congratulations to the EC on what looks like a promising initiative that will increase access to and reuse of open educational resources and technologies for a wide range of learners in Europe.

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European Commission wants to hear from you on “Opening Up Education”

Timothy Vollmer, August 27th, 2012

European Commission flags
European Commission / tiseb / CC BY

The European Commission has opened a public consultation period on the topic of “Opening Up Education.” The objective of the consultation is to explore the perceived need for EU action to promote the use of Open Educational Resources (OER) and of Information Communication Technologies (ICT) in education. Interested stakeholders (including organizations, public bodies, citizens) can complete the questionnaire on this consultation.

From the summary document (PDF):

While OER and the use of ICT in education are high on the agenda of policy makers in the educational sphere, OER and ICT have not yet reached a critical threshold to be fully exploited across all education and training sectors. Several actions have been undertaken over the years by the EU and Member States, but in a fragmented, short-term manner, without prospects for long-term sustainability. A comprehensive initiative at EU level could match the scope, size and complexity of the challenges, and respond to the increasing demand to tap into the potential of OER and ICT to modernize education. Such a strategy could provide a significant push to improve the way educational content is produced, accessed and used to teach, learn or connect with peers.

The consultation period ends 13 November 2012. Following on from the June 2012 UNESCO OER Declaration, the EU consultation can be a productive vehicle for continuing the exploration of and support for Open Education in Europe and around the world.