Street Photography in Europe

We Just Won, Right?


Severe restrictions to Freedom of Panorama rejected in the EU vote, but issues remain.

Here’s what just happened



Brief background

As you may already have seen, some of us have been getting very exercised recently about a single paragraph in a European Parliament report on copyright reform. You’ve probably seen this map a few times too.

Freedom of Panorama rights across Europe.Green indicates territories with a right to Freedom of Panorama, with lighter green countries providing FoP only over images of buildings, not other works.Yellow territories have FoP for non-commercial use only and red countries have no FoP in their laws. Map by King of Hearts and others, licensed CC BY-SA.

If you really want to know the detailed background, you can read about it in a piece I wrote three weeks ago (Freedom of Panorama is under attack, 21 June 2015), and an update I made at the weekend (Street photography in Europe and Freedom of Panorama, 6 July 2015).

The short version is that German Pirate Party MEP Julia Reda wrote a great report about how copyright rules could be updated across Europe and an amendment was made to it that could have threatened our right to take photographs in Europe if they included buildings or street art that’s still in copyright. Over 500,000 people signed a petition asking MEPs to reject this amendment.


What happened at the vote?

The vote was yesterday, so I figured I should put together an update of what happened and what it means.

The voting tally for Marietje Schaake’s pro-FoP amendment, defeated 303 votes to 228, with 24 abstentions. © European Union 2015 — EP, from the plenary video feed.

First there was a vote on a new amendment by Marietje Schaake, a social-liberal MEP from the Netherlands, who sought to restore the original meaning of the text and harmonise the law to protect Freedom of Panorama across the entire Union.

This pro-panorama amendment was rejected by 303 votes to 228.
Strange as it might seem, this is surprisingly good news.

The two largest groups in the Parliament — the centre-right EPP and the centre-left S&D — had said they would vote against Ms Schaake’s amendment as part of a compromise to ensure the bad text was removed; as a result, we didn’t expect it to stand much of a chance. Needing only 40 MEPs to have switched their votes is really good news for the campaign, sending a message that there is widespread support for Freedom of Panorama amongst MEPs and the issue merits further discussion.

Even more hopeful is the statement from the S&D group since the vote, including that “we should extend this freedom, not restrict it — public space should not be privatised.” While they would like to review the status quo first, knowing that the parliament’s second-largest group — the only one representing all 28 member-states — is open to liberal harmonisation is great to read.


The voting record for the “split vote” on paragraph 46, with 502 votes to remove it from the report, against 40 to retain it and 12 abstentions. © European Union 2015 — EP; tweeted by Italian social-democratic MEP Luigi Morgano.

With Ms Schaake’s amendment having fallen, it was really important for us to remove the anti-panorama paragraph 46 from the report altogether.

This anti-panorama text was introduced in JURI, the Legal Affairs committee, by French centrist MEP Jean-Marie Cavada — against the recommendations of three advisory committees.

But, because of the political pressure that our campaign had helped bring, even Mr Cavada wrote to MEPs asking them to vote to remove his own text, in the hope that they would not support Ms Schaake’s amendment to extend full freedom of panorama across the Union — including his native France, one of five member-states where there is no such freedom at all.

As you can see from the image, MEPs voted overwhelmingly to remove the anti-panorama text, with 502 votes against 40 to retain it.

The voting record for Julia Reda’s overall report (as amended). The report was passed by 445 votes to 65, with 32 abstentions. © European Union 2015 — EP

There were some other votes, mainly rejecting copyright-maximalist additions to the overall report; if you really want to read them all, you can compare the voting record PDF with Julia Reda’s annotated report.

The other vote that is worth mentioning, though, is the vote on the overall report — after the removal of Mr Cavada’s maximalist language on panorama.

The amended report was recommended by the parliament
by 445 votes to 65, with 32 abstentions.

So on the subject of Freedom of Panorama, the status quo will remain, with photographers having different rights in different European member-states.

The end result was summarised nicely by Ms Reda’s closing speech to the parliamentary plenary (in English) as “a great step forward, but also a missed opportunity”:

Julia Reda MEP speaking in English to the parliamentary plenary at the close of the debate. © European Union 2015 — EP, via YouTube.

What happens next?

Ms Reda’s report was a review of the Copyright Directive (2001/29/EC). Think about that date for a moment, the directive was passed barely a week after Mark Zuckerberg’s 17th birthday, almost a decade before the launch of Instagram, before Stewart Butterfield and Caterina Fake had even founded their company and before most consumers had even heard of DSLR cameras — the first consumer-targetted DSLR, the FinePix S1 Pro was launched just over a year beforehand.

This an “own initiative” report from the Parliament, so it doesn’t have any legislative weight itself, but it is expected that Günther Oettinger, (European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, a German centre-right politician) will be presenting a specific legislative proposal to reform the Copyright Directive before the end of the year. Julia Reda mentioned in an interview that: “I am hoping, when the reform from the Commission comes, it will be more bold.”

Before then — indeed later this month — the European Parliamentary Research Service expected to publish an assessment of copyright implementations around Europe, which is likely to discuss the differences in Freedom of Panorama across the Union and possible benefits of harmonisation.

I’ll try to summarise that here once it’s published — and I’ll let you know when the legislative proposal comes through and how we should react to it.


For now, though, we can all stand down take a breath — and go take some photos!

Thank you for having got in touch with your MEPs.
Without people like you taking action, we could not have achieved this result.

This article is dedicated to the public domain under the terms of the Creative Commons Zero licence. Please translate, copy, excerpt, share, disseminate and otherwise spread it far and wide. You don’t need to ask me, you don’t need to tell me. Just do it!


Follow Vantage on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. If you enjoyed reading this, please click “Recommend” below. This will help to share the story with others.