Could Your European Vacation Photos on Instagram Get You Sent to Jail?

What is on your bucket list? If seeing the Eiffel Tower is on your bucket list, would you take a picture of it when you finally get to see it? If you answered yes, you may want to be aware of some European copyright laws that may keep you from taking a picture of the famous modern architectural wonder.

The European Directive is a directive of the European Union that defines and limits copyright protections for different types of work, including but not limited to art, music, and architecture. In Article 5, the Directive proposes limits to the copyright protections for these works that could allow people like tourists to take pictures without permission. Though most of the European countries have provided the exceptions, but they are not required to, and France has not instituted the limitation.

The Eiffel Tower, as a piece of architecture, is in the public domain, which means it no longer has copyright protections from being photographed. In the European Union, an artistic work (like the architectural plans of the Eiffel Tower) will typically enter public domain about seventy years after the death of its creator. Good news: you may take pictures of the Eiffel Tower without penalty, during the day.

What about at night? The light display of the tower, which made its debut is 1985, is a much newer creation that is not in the public domain. Technically, reproductions for commercial use without the permission of Société d’Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel (SETE, the group that manages the landmark), is illegal as determined by a French court in 1992.

Commercial uses of images of the Eiffel Tower at night need approval by the SETE, and violators receive cease-and-desist letters. This law allows the artist to have control over how their work is being used and viewed. Eiffel Tower lighting restricted reproductions include distributing, selling, printing in magazines and posting photos to social media. However, restrictions are enforced by the artist and the artist chooses how to use their rights and what is or is not acceptable with their work.

The average member of the public visiting the French landmark by the millions does not think about the copyright laws surrounding the illumination scheme; in fact, most are not aware of this area of European law. If the artist behind the Eiffel Tower’s lighting were to enforce this law tomorrow, it would be a nightmare for French tourism. It would not be practical with all of the costs of litigating the millions of tourist photographs of the Eiffel Tower littering cyberspace.

So will your Instagram or Facebook page land you in jail? Probably not, but isn’t it good to have some warning in the event France decides to enforce its copyright law next week?


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