Just Above Sunset
May 1, 2005 - Trademark and Public Domain Issues with the Eiffel Tower

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I do not suppose this will effect any of us with websites – unless our sites make a whole lot of profit (unlikely) – but if we take a picture of the Eiffel Tower at night there now is a licensing fee to post it.  The item below notes that tourists posting to their own websites will not be targeted.  But one wonders if Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, once he gets a gazillion readers and is rolling in Euros, will need to kick some money back to the office of Jean-Bernard Bros, SNTE president and deputy mayor of Paris for tourism.  The thing is, after all, a monument situated in the public domain.  But… .

Ah heck, I haven’t yet read up on night shooting with my new Nikon D70 and the tripod is still in the box.  I’ll worry about it later.

But there was this in the news this week -

Eiffel Tower a Different Story by Night
Mikael G. Holter, Associated Press - Tuesday April 26, 3:45 PM ET

Here’s the scoop –


Snapping a picture of the Eiffel Tower by day, or snapping one by night. For many businesses, there's a big difference.

Every night, when lit and made visible for miles around, the Eiffel Tower becomes a registered trademark.

SNTE, the semiprivate company that manages the tower for Paris, allows the press and postcard makers to use the image for free. But moviemakers, advertisers and others seeking to use the tower's image for commercial use must pay.

Prices vary, depending on the medium and how long an ad will run. SNTE official Stephane Dieu said the firm charges $19,600 for commercials that run for a year on French television — and possibly more for a worldwide campaign. Print advertisers are charged $650 to $6,500.

The company says the trademark's primary purpose is to protect the tower's image — not make megabucks.

"We don't make a commerce of it," Dieu said.


Well, drat!  The AP items goes on to note that other monuments in Paris - the Pantheon and the Arc de Triomphe - are free of rights.  And this is according to Paris City Hall and the Center for National Monuments, the public body that manages French landmarks.  Day or night.  It doesn’t matter there.  And it seems the SNTE admits that of the eight million dollars in profit that the tower turned last year, only a small part - $69,276 to be precise - came from payment of rights for commercial use of the image.  So what’s the big deal?

Stephane Dieu of the SNTE says they handle about a thousand of these trademark cases, and about ten percent of those end with in the bad guys paying up.  Why bother?

A little trademark history to help explain –


The Eiffel Tower's trademark was established when artist Pierre Bideau installed the tower's current illumination in 1985.

To mark the new millennium in 2000, the tower was covered with 20,000 flashing light bulbs. The spectacle left Parisians wanting more, and the twinkling lights, another Bideau creation, were put up on a permanent basis in 2003, becoming a feature of Paris by night. Like the original lighting, the sparkling lights are a registered trademark. They twinkle for 10 minutes of every hour, from nightfall until 2 a.m.

Philippe Francois, who handles legal issues for another Paris monument, the Grande Arche de la Defense, said a lighting artist's work should be protected and rewarded.

"If you use specifically the image of the lit Eiffel Tower, it is because it has additional beauty," Francois said.


Well, one can see that point – but they put the thing right out there in the open!

But then the AP quotes a French communications lawyer who thinks this is silly, one Gerard Ducrey - "Without the monument, the lighting couldn't exist. It seems paradoxical to me that by this addition one can decide that a monument situated in the public domain be appropriated in a privative way."

But Jean-Bernard Bros, who is SNTE president and deputy mayor of Paris for tourism, is quoted as saying the lighting trademark "has helped protect the tower in a changing media environment."  He seems to have been upset when a website advertising the services of ladies of the night, so to speak, showed the ladies and the tower in the same shot.  He won that case - or rather, he threatened legal action and the other party backed off.

French Puritanism?  Perhaps.

Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, and editor and publisher of City-Directory Atlanta, is not impressed –


I'm totally with this Gerard Ducrey, the communications lawyer. I would like to see someone challenge this silliness under International Copyright law. It's out in the public domain, whether you illuminate the damn thing with light bulbs or not.

The fact that this article hardly touches on the various sides of the obvious controversy is absurd.


And Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, being there, has the definitive word –


The Ville de Paris 'owns' the Tour Eiffel, but the taxpayers of Paris 'own' the Ville de Paris. The city is a custodian of the [people's] tower, responsible for managing it correctly. As such the city is probably competent to decide what is 'fair use' and to go after those who would use it unfairly, especially for private gain.

If the photo I have sent is used [see below], it illustrates how the city is using the tower to promote its bid for the summer Olympics in 2012. Some Parisians do not think this is 'fair use.' To drive the point home, the photo also illustrates this note - which constitutes legitimate debate regarding the 'fair use' of public monuments, and is not for the explicit profit of Just Above Sunset - which is not a front for a porn ring.

The city is probably within its rights to charge for the use of an image of the Tour Eiffel when it has been incorporated into a company logo or a commercial sign unrelated to the business of the Ville de Paris, which is municipal government.

In a like manner the 'national monuments' of France guard the rights of reproduction for all French national monuments. These 'rights' extend to private citizens, their belongings, dogs, bicycles, etc. Various professional photographer associations are fighting against these blanket measures, because of the way courts have upheld these 'rights.' As it is, the only photo taken in France that may be free of 'rights' is one you take in you own bathroom at night with the lights off and the door locked.

In short it means that ninty-five percent of all the classic photos taken in Paris by famous photographers of the past would infringe on 'rights' today - infringe on so many 'rights' that the photos would be unpublishable. In the current climate these rules include paintings, such as Andy Warhol's soup cans - or serigraphs of Marilyn Monroe.

Otherwise, art is alive and well in Paris.


And here is Ric’s photo of the tower being used for a promotion.  He’s in trouble?  I’m in trouble?

No, it’s a daylight shot.

Actual size...


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
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