27 April 2016

Public Art and the Right of Panorama: A Plea for Sanity

Yesterday, I took a photo of a sculpture by the artist Eduardo Paolozzi  The sculpture is located just outside Euston Train Station in London, where everyone – anyone passes it, possibly stops to look at it – any time. It is public art at its finest – creativity that binds us together, gives us a bigger sense of ourselves and the world. It connects us with our humanity.

I love that sculpture. It uplifts me when I see it, and I sometimes forget things that might be playing on my mind. When the sun is shining on it, light cuts through the dark.

I have taken many photos of that sculpture. It looks different according to the light, the angle of the shot etc. Every time I take a photo of it, I am capturing not just that sculpture, but also how it makes me feel at that moment. I forget its name, it does not matter. All I know is that I love it, I want to share it with you, but I can’t. I would be breaking the law.

Under UK copyright law, and other places in the world like  Canada and Australia, someone like me (any one) can take photos of public art, even if they are still in copyright. Sir Eduardo Paolozzi died in 2005, which means that his works will still be in copyright for 70 years after the end of the year of his death. This means that even though the sculpture is in copyright, I could share my photo of it with you in these countries. I’m sure Sir Paolozzi would be thrilled to know that his life, thoughts and dreams live on through his art and because this sculpture, and others he has made (like the one outside the British Library), are public art, everyone can connect to them.

However, despite the World Wide Web, copyright laws are not international.  For example, in almost all countries which formed part of the old Soviet block,  “the Freedom of Panorama” is non existent. This is typical of copyright laws. Although core principles relating to copyright run through the 171 signatories of the Berne Convention there is little global harmonisation beyond this. European law is no better. The 28 states of the EU, have effectively 28 different copyright regimes and although the Freedom of Panorama is built into European Copyright Directives, it is non mandatory, so Italy, France etc do not have such provisions.

The European Commission has been working for a while now at building the copyright and licensing framework to support a Digital Single Market. They rightfully recognise that harmonised copyright laws will support the movement of services, people and products across Europe and remove inequity. The UK’s Libraries and Archives Copyright Alliance (LACA), published its London Manifesto in April 2015 to encourage the EC to consider key copyright areas which need to be addressed to support a Digital Single Market and ensure that copyright is fit for the digital age.

As part of these discussions, in March 2016, the EC  opened a consultation reviewing the Freedom of Panorama provision across Europe. The results of the consultation are likely to influence a make or break decision about it across the EU.

Differences in copyright provisions across the world ultimately result in mass inequity regarding content access and use. This will take a very long time to address. However, we do have the power right now to change how copyright laws work across the 28 countries forming part of the EU, and this is a start.

I’m writing this blog as a plea for sanity. The Freedom of Panorama is a Right. It is a human right. We cannot legislate against photographing public art in public places. We cannot and must not even try to control things like this – at stake: our equality of access – our connection with our humanity – the control of our responses. Those with wealth and power should not determine the outcome of this consultation, and therefore the EC must also take into account broader ethical drivers when determining the outcome of this consultation and ensure that this freedom, this right becomes mandatory across each one of the 28 EU states. Let start with the EU and then the rest of the world.

©Naomi Korn, 2016. Some Rights Reserved. This article may be reused and shared under the terms of a Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike Licence


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