Want to take a photo of artwork that’s in a public place, then encourage others to freely use the photo without the artist’s consent? If you’re in Sweden, that’s not OK, according to a ruling against Wikimedia.
Wikimedia Sweden, part of the same organization that publishes Wikipedia, claimed Monday’s ruling undermines the “freedom of panorama” that allows people to capture and share the beauty of public spaces.
The Swedish visual copyright society (BUS) disagreed, saying the ruling was “important for visual artists who need payment for their work.”
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At the heart of the matter is Wikimedia Sweden’s location-based database of works of art that are permanently located in public places. Wikimedia argued that this database of images was noncommercial, and Swedish copyright law allows people to take pictures of public art and put them online.
The key question that the Swedish supreme court had to address was that of whether the artists behind those works should be able to restrict how those images are shared online. Yes, the court said, they should.
The court said the database had a commercial value and, while individuals can take photos of public artworks as they wish, this kind of operation was a different matter.
“This is about who decides over the artists’ works: the artists themselves or the big players on the Internet,” said BUS chairman Åsa Berndtsson. “The background to the legal dispute is that Wikimedia has refused to sign a licensing agreement with [BUS] for artists’ rights—an agreement that would cost just a few hundred euros a year. Rather than negotiating on payments to artists, Wikimedia has instead chosen to spend tens of thousands of euros on lawyers to avoid it.”
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“The Wikimedia Foundation respects artists’ rights to control their works, but artists who wish to control all images of their art have the option to place their works in private places,” Wikimedia said. “The public should be free to enjoy and share views of public monuments and landscapes.”
The ruling comes in the context of a wider European debate over the “freedom of panorama.” Different EU countries have different laws on the matter—in France, for example, photographers are supposed to ask permission from artists and architects before shooting their public artworks and buildings, while those in Germany and the U.K. can snap away as they please.
Jean-Marie Cavada, a French liberal member of the European Parliament, last year tried and failed to whip up a call for the freedom to be removed across the EU.
Meanwhile, the European Commission wants to harmonize copyright rules across the bloc, and is currently running a consultation on the freedom of panorama. The question now is whether that harmonization will mean extension or abolition.