Do You Need Permission To Take A Photo With A Chair In It? You Might In France…

from the exactly-wrong dept

The British Journal of Photography (BJP) brings us yet another story of aggressive assertion of copyright wreaking harm on artists — the very people it allegedly empowers. It concerns some photos in Getty Images’ stock library that have chairs in them. Because a few of those chairs are “famous” in the sense that they were produced by a couple of designers that worked with the architect Le Corbusier, the heirs of those designers, together with the Le Corbusier Foundation, have sued Getty Images in France for copyright infringement — and won:

“Basically, there are two notions of copyright going against each other in this particular case,” says [the plaintiffs’ lawyer] de Leusse. “Photographers’ copyright, and the designers’ rights. Very much like a photographer needs the authorisation of people featured in their photos before selling them, they also need the authorisation of the intellectual property rights’ holders when it comes to works of art such as these objects.”

That, of course, raises the question: when is a chair — or any other object — a work of art? Because the logic of the court’s decision would seem to be that before you can take a photo of any “work of art”, you must get permission from the rights holder — but knowing when that is necessary is difficult.

Getty Images is apparently trying to push that problem on to its contributing photographers, judging by an email sent to them, and reported in the BJP article quoted above:

You are responsible under your agreements with us to submit only content for which you have the necessary rights. Using this case as an example, while you may hold a copyright in a particular image or clip, if it contains even a fraction of a Le Corbusier piece then you may not have all the necessary rights under French law to provide that content and therefore may be liable for copyright infringement under French law in respect of the furniture featured.

This ruling will surely lead to an escalation of claims in France against photographers for daring to “infringe” on the rights of someone by including “even a fraction” of an object in their photos — perhaps unwittingly. Which, in its turn, will inevitably have a chilling effect on photographers’ spontaneity and choice of subject-matter, as they try to avoid getting sued by shooting only the most generic of objects, and under tightly-controlled conditions.

And so, once again, the assertion of an intellectual monopoly will lead to an overall reduction in creativity, with both artists and society losing out — exactly the opposite of what it is supposed to happen.

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Companies: getty images, le corbusier

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Comments on “Do You Need Permission To Take A Photo With A Chair In It? You Might In France…”

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John Doe says:

Don't we have that same problem in the US?

If I am not mistaken, you can photograph Seattle, WA and include the Space Needle and you are fine. But if you photograph only the Space Needle you cannot sell your photographs due to some copyright or trademark issue. I believe there are a few other buildings in the US like this as well.

I am glad to see this kind of issue crop up. We can only hope it crops up more and more until the courts are so choked with copyright issues that maybe someone takes notice and does something about it. When artists start choking each other and not just consumers, then something might be done.

Michael says:


“They say stuff like this makes them embarrassed to be French.”

This case illustrates the willingness of government bodies to abuse the public. It’s apparent that they have no real criminals to go after, so they redefine menial, harmless, everyday actions as being criminal. Real crime requires real work, after all, so go after easier targets. Viola, they’ve got millions of potential criminals, a win-win-win for federal officials, lawyers and copyright holders. This is abuse of the public.

If they ever tried to sue me for taking a picture of a chair, I would give them absolutely nothing.

Anonymous Coward says:

In other words, you may no longer take pictures of any of the following and upload them on the Internet without permission.
-Pretty much anything man made

So I guess that means we can only take pictures of nature from now on, as long as that ‘nature’ is on your property (after all the public, as in the government, owns public parks!). Unless of course the Pope, or someone claiming to represent god decides to sue you for the lord for violating god’s copyright, since god created the earth. Then you’ll be allowed to take and post pictures of absolutely nothing, not even yourself, seeing as other people own the rights to your DNA.

Prisoner 201 says:

The solution is simple – stop stealing and only photograph original content. How hard can it be? The entitlement and hypocrisy here knows no bounds.

Photographing the lower quarter inch of the back left leg of a Corbusier is like breaking into Corbusier’s descendants villa, stealing the dining silver and raping their kid. Yes, you heard me. If you are against copyright to any degree you are a pedophile.

Just because your mommy gave you a camera does not give you a free pass to take other peoples stuff.

Michael says:


“Unless of course the Pope, or someone claiming to represent god decides to sue you for the lord for violating god’s copyright, since god created the earth. Then you’ll be allowed to take and post pictures of absolutely nothing, not even yourself, seeing as other people own the rights to your DNA.”

This part of your post is pointless and demeaning. What do you gain from taking hot-shots at the Catholic Church?

Justin (profile) says:

Dear Rights holder,

Dear Rights holder,

I really enjoyed your work and wanted to share it with my friends who couldn’t be here with me today. But since you are so concerned about your rights on this object, I was not able to take a picture and give you a bunch of free advertisement that you would of had to put 0 effort into. That is really too bad, because I know someone who really likes this type of design and probably would have bought one from you. But I guess you are getting what you want, so good luck with that.

Anonymous Coward says:


Certainly we wouldn’t want to listen to their other suggestions, which would see us broaden the definition of “fair use” and, horrifically, reduce copyright terms back to merely a lifetime or even less. Not only would such an act deprive our great-great-grandchildren of their birthright, but it would surely choke off creativity to the dark ages of the 18th and 19th centuries, a desperately lean time for art in which we had to make do with mere scribblers such as Wordsworth, Swift, Richardson, Defoe, Austen, Bronte, Hardy, Dickens, and Keats.

Do we really want to return to that world? I don’t think so.

Zangetsu (profile) says:

Perfect Picture of Paris

I found this perfect picture of France on the Wikipedia site. It has been carefully adjusted to avoid any copyright issues.

Paris in Summer

This is how most pictures of Paris should look. Please note the subtle modifications to the picture to ensure that it follows all of the latest guidelines and policies put in place by the French courts.

AB says:


Unfortunately this misses the point that the majority of copyright holders probably don’t want this law any more then the rest of the population. Only a small minority of people are interested in this, but they are represented by very powerful lobbyists who are taking advantage of the huge disconnect currently existing between politicians and their constituents.

Anonymous Coward says:


Most of the extended fair use proposals pretty much come at the expense of actual creators and rights holders. It doesn’t appear to be a very fair trade at all.

Further, the proposals generally allow for larger rights for individuals not working specifically for profit than everyone else. That is also an unfair situation.

Finally, how would you stack these extended rights up on, say, Youtube? If you give more fair use rights to “amateur” video creators, what happens when their work appears on a commercial website? Did their fair use disappear, or did their fair use suddenly magically get extended to a commercial entity, which couldn’t do the same thing by itself?

I have yet to see a “fair use expansion” proposal that didn’t allow for this massive backdoor.

Anonymous Coward says:

Don't we have that same problem in the US?

That is correct. There is a difference between the right to take the photograph and the right to publish it or sell the rights to publish. Specifically in the example used of photographing people. When a photographer takes a photograph of someone (except in specific cases) he owns the writes to the specific image. Everyone owns the rights to their own likeness. This is why photographer’s need model release forms from their subjects before they can sell the rights to the image for publication. However for photographs of crowds where an individual’s image isn’t distinguishable the release isn’t needed. The other interesting thing here is what is known as the “News Loophole.” If the use of the image can be deemed as “News” then the person doesn’t have to permit the use of their likeness for it to be used. This loophole is designed to prevent reports allow news organizations from being sued or otherwise encumbered such that they are not able to report news to the public. However this loophole is abused by the paparazzi and tabloids to justify publishing unauthorized photographs of celebrities that would otherwise not be permitted if the person wasn’t famous.

wvhillbilly (profile) says:


Ah, now the French can sue anyone who uses the letter “h” in anything he writes!!! Better start turning all our office buildings into courthouses and all our hotels into prisons, so we can handle all the infringement cases of all the people who write anything using the letter “h”.

Oops! I just did it at least 7 times above and more here. I better run and hide somewhere where the French can’t find me.

V (profile) says:


Again… It’s France… what do you expect?

They didn’t have enough interest in their rights to stand-up to the Nazi’s in WWII and they don’t have enough interest in their rights now to stand up to idiotic and problematic “intellectual” property laws.

Eventually… the entire world – except for pirate – will completely stagnate because you won’t actually be able to create anything new since someone will have some VAGUELY similiar copyright, trademark or patent and the new creators will be so afraid of a lawsuit, they won’t even try to publish mainstream.

Instead, I see an underground culture forming. You’ll have the yellow pencil, googstepping 9-5 sheepeople who just blindly follow the yellow line to work and then back to home.

Then, you’ll have the creative underground “criminals”… and dare I says, “intellectual copyright terrorists” who create new stuff, remix stuff and rehash old stuff from 200 years ago – which has been retroactively copyrighted.

It’s a sad, sad testemant to where we are headed. And the French are the first to get the labotomy.

Chosen Reject (profile) says:


At least his entire post wasn’t pointless and demeaning like yours. We get it, you’re insensitive, but the post wasn’t taking a pot shot at the Catholic church. He picked the Pope probably because he is the most recognizable person that claims to speak on God’s behalf. Would you have felt better if he mentioned the Mormon prophet, the Dalai Lama, the Grand Mufti, or even that crazy guy on the street corner?

Anonymous Coward says:

Perhaps Janine Gordon should take note of these developments before she decides to sue someone for infringing her copyrights of composition, of all bloody things. Did she create the people and all the other elements of her photographs?

Filthy pirates, photographers. Can’t stand ’em. I’m foaming at the mouth and the world is in its endtimes because of all this immorality.

Mike, why are you such a pirate? Chubby two-faced slimeball.

D. says:


There’s some crazy stuff going on in France… Sarkozy, whom you might remember as a President elected by the people, manages to remove unflattering pictures or videos from existence. Poor little baby can’t take a little criticizing.

There’s a law making sure you can’t libel someone’s reputation – let’s say Mr. X stole your bike. You know he did: he put a picture on Facebook of the bike with him on it, he sent you a text telling you he’s got your bike, and he even went up on a roof and yelled he stole your bike. Well, you can’t tell anyone he’s the one who stole your bike, since that would hurt his reputation. People have won on cases like this one.

The problem with France is they still think they’re under Louis XIV. I grant them he’s probably one of the best Kings the world has seen (but he was not *that* great, unlike what they’d want you to believe). However if you ask any French person what the Republic stands for, he’ll talk about Napoleon, liberty, equality, fraternity, etc. But deep down they want everyone to know about their great monarchy.

I should know, I live right next to them. They’re like that creepy neighbour across the hall who’s always greeting you when you come home as if he’s been standing on his porch all day, and you just know his room is full of pictures of Lindsey Lohan with knives planted to hold them on the wall.

wvhillbilly (profile) says:

"harmonizing copyright law worldwide

Wait until every copyright restriction of every nation on earth are all rolled into world copyright law. It will be an infringement of copyright just to open your mouth or pick up a pen or turn on your radio or TV because every letter of the alphabet, every word in the dictionary, every note on the musical scale, every possible element of any image imaginable will each be individually copyright, and the slightest violation of even any single element, note, letter or spoken word will land you in jail and subject to multi-million dollar fines, with each element violated counting as a separate offense.

[Sarcasm – copyright industry pipe dreams]

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