Cry me a river, Wikipedia!

When they say Panorama, they’re not really talking about panorama

Today the European parliament votes on the least important intellectual property issue ever: panorama. How did such an insignificant detail become the focus of European policy-making? The idea is that design pattern rights to public buildings are protected and therefore cannot be replicated without restriction. This is the case in some member states but not all, and thus perhaps European harmonization is important. Some voices try to make this fairly simple and straightforward idea out to be a threat to freedom of information and the digital development. How can it be that it is legal to take a photo of the Eiffel tower by day but not by night? they say. The light design is a work of art and protected as such. But it is of course not illegal to take a photo, it’s only that you cannot publish and mass distribute that photo without permission. In theory. In practice no tourist who posts a photo on her social media have ever gotten or will ever get in trouble for something like that. If they did, the problem would be that lawyers have difficulties finding business, rather than intellectual property rights “not being fit for the digital age”. So what if Wikipedia can’t post every photo it wants? Cry me a river! Of course you can publish anything you want, except you have to get the proper approvals first and possible pay for the content you use. There is nothing wrong with that, in fact it’s a great idea. Ask first, pay if necessary, then post. It is not the intellectual property rights that are not fit for the digital age, it’s the rules on mass distribution of content. That would be a much better issue for the European parliament to put its wisdom to bear on.

Of course, those who make such a big fuss about panorama, they also don’t really care about panorama. The Wikipedians, the pirates, the Silicon Valley pundits. It’s just a useful segway to what they really care about: weakening intellectual property rights. I have yet to hear anyone talk about the “conflicts of panorama” without in the next instant saying that it is an example of how intellectual property rights ought to be diluted in the digital era. The enemies of intellectual property rights jump on any opportunity to make that claim, whether it be orphan works, protection times or panorama. And while each of them may have many interesting theoretical aspects, we all know that the real issue is how commercially interesting content should be protected in the digital networks. As little as possible, say those who complain about panorama. As much as possible, say those who put their creativity and effort and money into it. If we have learned something in the era of big data, it is that information does not want to be free, but that it is precious. That makes intellectual property rights more important, not less. When someone says copyright reform, they often mean copyright dilution, but if copyright needs to be reformed in the digital era, it would be to make it stronger.

So by all means, Members of European Parliament. Vote wisely on panorama, but whatever you vote, panorama is not really the point.

UPDATE: These are the panorama rules for the official EP buildings