In the past weeks, hundreds of artists, particularly French artists or artists practicing their craft in France, have written to my office and those of my colleagues, asking us to support the adoption of amendment 46 to the Reda report on copyright in favour of an exception to the Freedom of Panorama for works of art situated in public spaces. Artists have clearly expressed their wish to maintain control of the commercial uses of their artworks.
I have also received many emails from concerned constituents, photographers and citizens, worried about their right to take and disseminate pictures taken in public places.
During the plenary on Thursday 9th of July, amendment 46 was voted out, together with any mention of the 'freedom of panorama' and its possible exceptions. This has come as the result of an agreement between the main political groups as no compromise was reached on common wording. Political groups argued that the amendment in question was made to an own-initiative report that is simply an examination by an MEP of the state of play in the implementation of the 2001 Information Society Directive. Therefore the current document has no legal effect and, as a consequence, a majority of MEPs decided to ban all reference to 'freedom of panorama' altogether. Labour MEPs, including myself, followed this line.
As a member of the European Parliament's Culture and Education committee and being an artist myself, I feel strongly about this issue and I believe that artists deserve a more developed answer to their concerns than a simple explanation of how we voted.
Therefore I will take the risk of not delivering an answer that many of the people who wrote to me would like to hear, but feel rather that it is my duty to give them an honest response: like my Labour colleagues, I believe that the 'freedom of panorama' existing in the majority of EU countries, and particularly in the UK[i], must be secured.
Before the advent of photographs, moving image and digital art, artists and graphic designers drew and painted pictures, including many rural and industrial landscapes, often choosing iconic cultural buildings, monuments, and even gardens, designed by well-known figures. But, it is not just artists that we need to consider here; people in general have always chosen to record, document, represent and interpret the man-made environment - it is both a professional pursuit and amateur activity.
Public spaces, including online public spaces, are occupied by all of us in our multifarious roles, private and professional. We cannot shut it out of our view and nor should we. Human nature will always mean that we will retain a propensity to record and share what we see.
When buildings and public artworks are built they are generally commissioned for public use. Artists concerned about the potential use of their work by third parties, and the interaction that the public might have with it, should probably raise their concerns with the commissioning body when contracts are being drawn up. This would indeed provide a mechanism supporting preliminary authorisation.
The European Commission will propose a wide-ranging copyright reform by the end of this year, and the European Parliament has been at the forefront of keeping the debate going on the Freedom of Panorama and other issues.
In the coming proposal by the Commission, I feel that the artists require a more nuanced and detailed text that both acknowledges their ownership of the artworks, upholds 'freedom of panorama' as a broad-based right in respect of public space and the general public, but also encourages artists, architects, designers, etc., to discuss the ethics of commercial interests at the pre-design stage with commissioning bodies.
Labour MEPs are committed to ensuring that the Commission, when proposing its copyright reform, takes on board the views of creators, industry and consumers so that we can take forward a copyright system which works fairly for all. This includes enhanced rights for creators of cultural content, and increased possibility for portability of rights and services.
[i] In the UK, freedom of panorama is written in the Copyrights, Designs and Patents Act of 1998 in section 62 on representation of certain artistic works on public display.