Copyright of buildings

This week Belgium celebrated the 50th anniversery of the World Expo organised in Brussels in '58. That fair opened up the world to post-war Belgium in an era of enormous optimism in a rapdidly changing society.

When you think Expo '58, you think "Atomium", the weird blown-up iron crystal representation which still is one of the weirdest pieces of architecture in Belgium. When I saw all the flash-backs in the news, I had to think of all my foreign readers on my blog here and I figured I wanted to make a nice post about the Atomium.

All of a sudden I remember having read somewhere that you can't publish a picture of the Atomium just like that. Some googling learned me indeed the following:

The image of the Atomium is protected since its construction. It's mandatory to gain approval from the asbl/vzw Atomium and the SABAM, before copying or broadcasting the image of the Atomium. It is also necessary to mention "copyright asbl/vzw Atomium". (source)

And it's apparently quite costly and SABAM does amuse itself googling for pictures. Years ago they claimed a 5000 BEF fine per week on the internet. Currently it would cost 91,54 euro to publish a picture on the internet. That also counts for vacation pictures uploaded to Flickr or any online photo album as well. Yikes! No wonder that the architect's children gain 30.000 Euro per year from the Atomium copyright. And yet....which tiny piece of the tourists and the internet population is aware of this??? Just google a bit, use the tag Atomium at flickr, ...and you'll get multiple pages of results. The internet is full of pictures of this building. I know one of my readers actually has posted marvellous pictures on her blog (and I will not make a hyperlink now...I don't want to guide SABAM to anybody).

As there is a lot of new retro-publications appearing for the Expo's anniversary, the rules would be softened a little bit this year : amateurs can publish a picture right now without cost after applying for a written permission at SABAM. Well screw them...I wouldn't want them to get overly busy, so I won't bother them.

The city of Mechelen was also aware of this rule and wanted to organise an exposition. Hence they organised a competition for 100 photoshoppers who'd erase creatively the Atomium out of family pictures. They got informed that any pictures where the silhouet of the building was still visible is not acceptable either. Argh, how annoying can you get?

To some level I understand this building copyright protection for commercial agencies. And that a brilliant architect has created a building that actually turned into a national landmark has to be credited to this architect in some way.
But isn't bugging simple families not one step too far? Sharing pictures over the internet is what modern technology allows us now. But apparently the law doesn't give us the same permissions. Can't this be considered as "fair use"?? Apparently not for the Atomium.

So you cant published pictures anymore taken by other people, but you cannot be certain about publishing your own vacation pictures either??? Well at least not for "recent buildings" because the copyright only lasts until 70 years after the death of the architect. So you're safe for old cathedrals etc... What an advantage for tourists in Europe ;).

The Atomium is not the only case:
  • In Belgium this would also be the case for any building made by Victor Horta , the Flagey building, the NATO buildings, Berlaymont, The European parliament (not much left for Brussels tourists: simply don't post pictures of Brussels to be certain ;-) ).
  • In France the lights of the Eifeltower are protected, so no pictures by night!
  • the Lone Cypress (a tree!) in California
  • ...?



Wow, what tourist doesn't have the Eiffel Tower at night or the Lone Cypress on highway one. I wonder if that applies to social network photos, as well.

How crazy.
Allie said…
Wow - it seems like a strange law to me but then again, I am not the one who created it. One would think however that the use of photos would actually help promote the area and/or landmark.

I will make a note to not take that photo when I come to see you next year. :)
Jenn in Holland said…
I have never heard anything so silly in all my life. I am confident that the postcards of the Atomium are not marked with that copyright information. And really, what are they going to do, fine every tourist who aims their camera at the structure. This is seriously ridiculous. I feel like rising up to challenge such illogical reasoning... Maybe I will post nothing but photos of the Atomium everyday from now on. I am just grumpy about the silliness...
Snooker said…
My father was in Brussels in '58 for the fair. He has at least five beautiful pictures which he took of Atomium. We see them every time we have a family reunion because he pulls out the slides for us to see. The whole family watches a slide show which covers three years of his life as he traveled all over Europe.

Next time I talk with him I will be sure to let him know that he is guilty of copyright infringement. I'm absolutely positive that he will have some very special words on the topic.

Popular Posts