Architectural design is protected by copyright law. But we have mentioned before that taking photographs of public buildings are completely legal (as long as you are taking photographs in a public space it’s all fair game). No one will come slap you with copyright infringement if you publish a photograph of yourself in front of the Statue of Liberty. But you might be in trouble if you take a photograph of another classic French structure at night, the Eiffel Tower.
"That’s not true!" you say. Your friends have photos of themselves kissing in front of the Eiffel Tower on Facebook? Well, as long as the photos were taken during the day, they're in the clear. Despite what most nations follow, France, Belgium, and Italy did not adopt the 2001 information society directive dealing with copyrights, which allowed people to take photographs in public spaces free of charge. The clause was optional and not incorporated under domestic law.
According to the FAQs on the official Eiffel Tower website, Permission and rights must be obtained from the "Société d’Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel" (the Operating Company, or SETE) for the publication of photos of the illuminated Eiffel Tower.
The distinction between daytime and nighttime photography is the lighting. Although the building itself is copyright free, the arrangement of lights and its design is protected by copyright.
Considering I am about to visit Italy this winter, I would have scoffed and condescendingly told anyone with an issue that I know how copyrights around photography work, only to be sadly shocked to discover universal laws of copyright are as real as unicorns.
Even within the United States, photographing federal buildings can be a bit "iffy." Especially after 9/11 you want to be careful photographing or video recording in and around federal buildings. Under the law, in 2010, a court settlement affirmed the right to take photos of federal buildings but there are still a few caveats. The federal regulations on this issue state that unless other rules, directive, or orders exist that prohibit the photography of federal buildings, a person can:
(a) Take photographs of the space occupied by a tenant agency for non-commercial purposes only with the permission of the occupying agency concerned;
(b) Take photographs of the space occupied by a tenant agency for commercial purposes only with written permission of an authorized official of the occupying agency concerned; and
(c) Take photographs of the building entrances, lobbies, foyers, corridors, or auditoriums for news purposes.
On a side note, while looking for a photograph of the Eiffel Tower on Creative Commons, a brilliant resource for license-free images, I saw a number of night photos of the tower. This just goes to show that you should never trust something you get off the internet. At the end of the day you will be held liable for posting anything on your personal blog or marketing materials.
So let this be a lesson to all my fellow travelers going abroad: Make sure you understand your rights to photograph both buildings and people before whipping out that expensive DSLR!
How many instances do you think you've accidentally infringed on someone's copyright and risked a lawsuit? Download the Ultimate Startup Toolkit to find out some IP best practices.