When Does Copyrighting Go Too Far?

Update: The Atomium owners have come to their senses. They now issued a statement that says that “they won’t ask for license fees on amateur photographs during this anniversary year”. That means the exhibitors are in the clear and won’t have to remove the Atomium from the photographs they’re exhibiting. The exhibitors would like to thank everyone who responded and blogged about it.

My home town Mechelen (Belgium) is having an exhibition about the world expo in Belgium in 1958. One of the only remaining buildings from that year’s world expo is the Atomium, one of the most recognized buildings in Belgium. When tourists visit Belgium, this is on their agenda. Obviously, a lot of pictures are taken in front of the Atomium.

The exhibition in Mechelen was supposed to show these types of photos. Photos of people who had visited Belgium during the world expo. Sounds very innocent, right? Well… Since the Atomium was/is such a prominent building on the world expo site, it’s obvious that this appears in a lot of photos. According to copyright laws, they can’t show the pictures. Well… They can show the pictures but it can’t have the Atomium in it. Every time the image of the Atomium is shown, they (and actually, you too) have to pay a copyright fee, get written approval from the company that manages the building and to top it off, every photo must have the “(c) vzw Atomium” copyright line.

The exhibitor has found a creative way to get around that and is now looking for 100 Photoshoppers to cut out the Atomium from all of the exhibited photos. That just seems wrong to me. I mean, it’s totally cool that they are specifically asking for Photoshoppers (Photoshop being an Adobe product :D) but the reason why seems wrong to me. The Atomium is a public building and a landmark that was (probably) paid for with tax payer’s money but you can’t show pictures from it without paying copyrights to the building owner. So that got me wondering where this copyright-fee goes to? Does it go back to the owners of the building, in this case the tax payers? I think not…

So when does copyrighting go too far? I think this would be an excellent example.