The concept of “Freedom of Panorama” is a copyright exception wherein the law permits taking photographs, video footage and creating other images (such as paintings) of buildings, sculptures and other art works which are permanently located in a public place, without infringing any copyright that may otherwise subsist in such works, and to publishing such images. Copyright laws that protect paintings, photographs, and musical works also consider buildings and monuments as creative works and protect them under copyright. Panorama freedom is an exception to the exclusive right of reproduction and distribution conferred upon copyright holders and also discards the need to get prior permission or license for reproducing and distributing copyrighted works.

The inclusion and interpretation of Panorama freedom varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction depending upon the domestic copyright laws of each country. Majority of countries across the globe explicitly permit freedom of panorama, whereas others differ in its interpretation and a few countries have restrictions and limitations to this copyright exception.

Most of the common law nations such as Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom, as well as India recognize Freedom of Panorama. On the other hand, European countries indicate a huge disparity regarding its recognition and implementation, for instance, in France, the freedom of panorama is not statutorily introduced, and therefore the interpretation is left open to the Courts, other countries like Denmark and Spain, though have introduced this exception but with restrictions on reproductions made for private and not commercial purposes.

Freedom of Panorama was one of the most debated and controversial issues in 2015 during the process of reforming the European Union InfoSoc Directive­. The issue was stirred up by a recommendation suggesting that Freedom of Panorama, provided under Article 5 (3)(h) of the InfoSoc Directive should be made mandatory throughout European Union countries. But the final draft of the amendment proposed by the Legal Affairs Committee of the EU Parliament suggested that “commercial use of photographs, video footage or other images of works which are permanently located in physical public places should always be subject to prior author authorization from the authors.”

Given the circumstances that this proposed amendment was brought into force, it would restrict the commercial use of pictures containing famous monuments situated at public places in any of the EU nations. The next issue that sprouted up was the interpretation of the word “commercial”. Basically, commercial use would mean advertisements and movies, but the terms and conditions on all social media sites, including Facebook and Instagram, state that they have the right to exploit any uploaded images for commercial use. So technically speaking, the commercial restriction would also restrict individuals from uploading their personal pictures on social media platforms, unless if one could get a prior permission or license from the copyright holder of such structure.

Sounds bizarre, but that would have been the case if the amendment was brought into force. Thankfully the EU Parliament voted against the restriction on commercial usage of photographs or videos of works located in physical public places without authorization and left it to the individual countries to implement Freedom of Panorama according to their domestic copyright laws.

And so it’s still illegal to post photographs of certain monuments without permission, such as in Italy for publishing pictures of cultural goods such as buildings, sculptures, paintings etc. for commercial purposes one must obtain authorization from the Ministry of Arts and Cultural Heritage and the Atomium building in Belgium is also copyright protected and use of its images are restricted. To this extent, the Atomium website expressly states that the image of the Atomium is protected and cannot be published without permission and payment. Likewise, the Eiffel Tower in France as such is not copyright protected but the light installations added in 2003 are considered an “artistic installation” separate from the structure itself and are copyright protected. Whilst daytime pictures and views captured are rights-free, the illuminated view at nights requires permission from the Eiffel Tower’s operating company “Société d’Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel” (SETE), who own the copyright.

Indian Scenario

Freedom of Panorama although not explicitly mentioned, yet this copyright exception which permits a third party to reproduce works of art that is permanently located at public places is imbibed under various clauses of Section 52 of the Indian Copyright Act.

Certain acts do not amount to copyright infringement, namely:

  • The making or publishing of a painting, drawing, engraving or photograph of a work of architecture or the display of a work of architecture (Section 52 (1)(s)),
  • The making or publishing of a painting, drawing, engraving or photograph of a sculpture, or other artistic work, any other work of artistic craftsmanship, if such work is permanently situated in a public place or any premises to which the public has access (Section 52 (1)(t)), and
  • The inclusion in a cinematograph film of any artistic work permanently situated in a public place or any premises to which the public has access (Section 52 (1)(u)).

On account of the above provisions, copyright laws in India very clearly recognize and permit Freedom of Panorama without any limitations or restriction. And therefore, irrespective of commercial or personal use, pictures of public artworks, monuments or buildings in India can be published and distributed without the risk of copyright infringement.