An obscure clause in France’s copyright laws is prohibiting travelers from snapping and sharing pictures of the Eiffel Tower at night. The tower, which was built in 1889, is deemed public property during the day. However, an impressive light show that illuminates the landmark after sun set is considered a piece of artwork that is technically protected by copyright.
Today, the tower is the most-visited paid monument in the world – iconic of the French capital and to many tourists. Yet, the Société d’Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel (the tower’s operating company, or SETE), recently confirmed that sharing images of the tower on social media sites, such as Facebook or Twitter, is illegal and can land tourists with a hefty fine.
According to its website, “…its various illuminations are subject to author’s rights as well as brand rights.”
‘Use of these images is subject to prior request from the Eiffel Tower’s operating company.’
‘The citation “Eiffel Tower”, the names of the various services offered on the monument as well as domain names are also registered.”
Unfortunately, this clause is not unique to the Eiffel Tower. In fact, many buildings across Europe are also protected by copyright laws. In Romania, Slovenia, and Bulgaria, for example, photos of public monuments are permitted, as long as the images are not sold.
In 2001, the EU also attempted to implement a new law, which states that photos of architectural structures can be taken free of charge, as long as they are located in a space open to the public.
The vague nature of the clause, however, makes it difficult to interpret and apply. Thus, it is only recognized and accepted by certain states.
In fact, many building owners purposely choose to avoid it, as it is not mandatory, but “opt-in” in nature. Several countries including Italy, Belgium and France, for example, have withheld its transposition into the national law.
Unfortunately, for modern-day tourists, the advent of the digital age makes it difficult to abide these severely outdated regulations. Today, smartphones and various social media sites allow almost anyone upload a photo within seconds of snapping a picture.