Nothing is more quintessentially Parisian than the Eiffel Tower, an icon of the French capital created out of wrought-iron lattice work designed by Stephen Sauvestre for engineers Maurice Koechlin and Émile Nouguier, two senior engineers employed by the Compagnie des Établissements Eiffel for the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris.
The tower is named for the company's owner and the tower's original copyright holder, Gustave Eiffel.
It is probably one of the most photographed sites in the world with an average of just under seven millions tourists every year visiting the site.
But one quirk of French law you might never notice – you will never find a licensed picture of the Eiffel Tower at night.
In fact, you won’t be able to locate licensed photos or videos of on any legitimate stock website at all – thanks to a quirk of European Union copyright law that specifically applies to this depiction of the iconic landmark.
Half As Interesting explains that most nations in the world protect the original works of a creator during the creator’s lifetime plus some number of years after the creator’s death.
For many nations of the world, the European Union, being a bloc of nations among them, this number is the life of the creator plus seventy years.
How does this impact the Eiffel Tower whose designers, engineers, and namesake himself are long dead?
For the purposes of copyright, buildings are classified as artistic works, a legal status that affords architecture the same legal status as a song, movie, book, or photograph, among other objects of art.
Most nations allow photographers a “freedom of panorama” – that is, if a photographer captures a protected building or work in the course of normal photography, the photographer does not owe the creator (in this case, the architect) a copyright.
The European Union treaty allows nations within the EU to tailor their laws according to domestic needs. This is why France does not subscribe to the “freedom of panorama” clause of copyright protection found in most of the EU.
As of 2016, France allows photographers to use pictures for personal use but any commercialization of the photo is an act of copyright violation if the work is protected.
The alteration of the Eiffel Tower in 1985 – the addition of exterior, nighttime lighting – is considered an artistic work and is thus protected under French copyright law.
This is why you see replicas of the Eiffel Tower in Las Vegas, among other places, and in souvenirs from street vendors – the copyright on the design has long passed. The addition of lighting at night – being so recent – is considered separately for the purposes of copyright protection.
Other examples of protected architecture discussed in the video are the iconic glass pyramid at the Louvre in Paris, the mermaid statue in Copenhagen, Denmark, and the main train station in Rome, Italy.
As Half As Interesting notes, this copyright has never gone to court for enforcement, but that does not make nighttime photographs of the Eiffel Tower for commercial purposes any less illegal.
The Metro cites efforts by MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) to change the law, citing the limited “freedom of panorama” in France, Italy, and Denmark as “Europe at its worst” according to the publication.
In a section on advice for tourists on how to get around this quirk of European law, Metro reminds readers that, while taking the photo is illegal, it is the sharing of the photo that gets photographers into trouble with European authorities.
To share the photo, photographers must first obtain permission the from Société d’Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel (the Eiffel Tower’s operating company).