Q&A: Copyright Infringement and Architectural Photography

Q&A: Copyright Infringement and Architectural Photography

In the digital age, protecting copyrighted works is complicated. The website Copytrack allows photographers to find duplicates of their original works online that are in copyright violation and helps them exercise their rights.

ArchiExpo e-Magazine spoke with Copytrack CEO Marcus Schmitt and legal practitioner Binta Koulibaly about how the company deals with original photos of architecture that carries its own copyright restrictions.

ArchiExpo e-Magazine: Can photos of copyrighted works such as architecture be copyrighted?

Binta Koulibaly: In general, yes, but each country is different. The protection of architecture is foreseen in the Bern Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works. But, as per freedom of panorama, copyrights protecting buildings don’t prevent taking pictures of them as long as they’re taken from the public highway. France is one of the countries that limits this freedom to images shot by an individual person for non-commercial purposes only, unless the photographer has received authorization and has paid the architect. In the US or in Germany there’s full freedom of panorama, so if the photo is taken from the public highway, the rights to the photograph belong to the photographer.

ArchiExpo e-Magazine: Why stricter rules in France?

Binta Koulibaly: I think the French tendency is to protect their architectural works. Remuneration could help maintain the building, but these rules also allow the continued involvement of the architect.

ArchiExpo e-Magazine: How do you deal with photos of buildings that outlive their architect?

Binta Koulibaly: An architectural work is protected by copyright law until 70 years after the death of the architect.

1. New’R Tour in Nantes by architects Hamonic + Masson. 2. La Soucoupe in Saint-Nazaire, France by architects Vissuzaine, Longuet et Rivière. Courtesy of the photographer: Dist de Kaerth

ArchiExpo e-Magazine: How does Copytrack find stolen images?

Marcus Schmitt: The photographer uploads their portfolio to our platform and our web crawling systems crawl up to 500 million web pages a day to find matches. We deliver back hits to our clients who use tools we provide, including an overlay function, to verify it’s their photo. They can then submit a claim to us if they confirm the use of their image isn’t licensed properly.

ArchiExpo e-Magazine: Why so much precision in verifying the images are theirs?

Marcus Schmitt: There are many photos of famous buildings, the Eiffel Tower for example, often from the same angle. The photographer has to be 100 % sure it’s their photo for us to take action.

ArchiExpo e-Magazine: Do you accept all cases?

Marcus Schmitt: We check to see the case is against a business-oriented website because we don’t go after private individuals. If the copyrighted image is used for commercial purposes and we’ve collected all the evidence, we accept the claim.

Binta Koulibaly: It’s sometimes difficult to qualify a commercial use. Artistic use does not mean automatically not commercial. It’s a complex subject. Furthermore, law changes, in particular, copyright law, as it has to adapt to the development of the digital world.

You might also enjoy reading our article How to Photograph Your Own Interiors.

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