Do Night Photos of the Eiffel Tower Violate Copyright?

Eiffel Tower

A series of articles have been making their way around the Internet suggesting that taking photos of the Eiffel Tower at night could be a copyright infringement. Is this limitation real or hyperbole spewing from the overactive imaginations of the blogosphere? The answer depends on whether the Tower’s lighting is a copyrightable work of art or just a part of the structure. So before you allow the Internet to scare you away from taking the next iconic night photo of the Eiffel Tower, let’s take a look at copyright law and its effect on the 125-year-old French landmark.

Under the Copyright Directive Article 5, European Union countries can limit copyright protection for various types of works, including architecture, but are not required. In most EU countries, photos of public buildings or those buildings visible from a public place are permissible (see Copyright in Architectural Designs). Those photos can be published and distributed without permission. However, France, Italy and Belgium have not instituted this limitation so right relating to architecture follow the laws of those individual countries. In France, laws surrounding architecture are comparatively restrictive.

The Eiffel Tower Copyright

The Eiffel Tower is no longer under copyright protection (aka in the public domain), which allows for photos of the structure. However, the lighting design is a recent addition and the Société d’Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel, the organization managing the structure, maintain that the lighting is an artistic work separate from the structure itself. As such, the artistic lighting is not in the public domain, and without the EU Copyright Directive providing limitations, French law prevails. According to the Eiffel Tower website, taking photos during the day is permitted, “however, its various illuminations are subject to author’s rights as well as brand rights. . . Usage of these images is subject to prior request from the Société d’Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel.”

The international copyright treaty, the Berne Convention, provides protection for literary and artistic works, including “every production in the literary, scientific and artistic domain, whatever may be the mode or form of its expression.” Whether the lighting scheme is a separate protectable artistic work is debatable, but only the courts can make that determination. So for the purpose of this analysis, let us assume that the work has copyright protection.

The Rights Under the Berne Convention

The EU has a broad scope of rights including the:

  • right of reproduction
  • right of communication
  • right of distribution
  • right of fixation
  • right of rental and/or lending
  • right of broadcasting
  • right of communication to the public by satellite

Those rights are much the same as in the United States. One cannot sue someone else’s art prominently in photos without authorization as it violates the exclusive rights granted to the artist, even when the art is incidental to the photo. For example, American Eagle violated AholSniffsGlue’s exclusive rights when his street art was in the background of photos taken for an ad campaign. Any night shot of the Eiffel Tower, regardless of the fact that the primary focus of the photo may be the Eiffel tower itself, includes the artistic lighting and so is a copyright infringement.

There is one caveat, however; people can take night photos of the Tower for personal use. Much like the exception for recording movies on a home DVR, French law allow for personal tourist photos.

The Practical Side of Copyright Protection

Copyright allows an artist can stop anyone from using a work in violation of their exclusive rights. For the creator of the Eiffel Tower Lighting, that includes distributing the photos over the internet, selling the photos, uploading the to stock photos sites, placing them in magazines or posting them to social media.

Eiffel Tower
Eiffel Tower in 1914

If that is the case, then why are their thousands of night shots of the Eiffel Tower on the Internet? The answer is simple; having a copyright does not require that an artist enforce it. The rights can be used in any way the artist wishes.

Then to contemplate the boundaries for when we can safely use night photos of the Eiffel Tower, we must try to discover what uses the artist finds acceptable.

The following are purely opinions based upon various factors, such as current use of the photos on the Internet or the costs of litigation. The results are not meant to be hard rules users should follow, but instead as a guide who may find themselves standing in front of the Eiffel tower at night.

That being said; a search for “Eiffel Tower at Night” on Google will show over 24 million items. Copyright law aside, we would expect that an artist who creates such a prominent publicly displayed work would expect people to take pictures and distribute them around the web or on social media. Also, millions of tourists see the Eiffel Tower each year with only a small percentage having any ideas that the lighting is copyright protected. It is an anomaly for copyright protection to be attached to such an old landmark. Asserted copyright protection on the unsuspecting public would initiate a Public Relations nightmare for French Tourism.

As well, any assertion of those right would require at a minimum a cease-and-desist letter to each violator; a costly and practically impossible implementation. For those that do not heed the warning within the cease-and-desist letter, elevating those infringements to lawsuits would create an even greater public outcry as well as increased costs unjustified by the limited potential gain. A successful lawsuit allows the copyright holder profits gained from the use or damages such as lost licensing revenue. In most cases, the cost of a lawsuit far outweigh the returns. Just like those receiving Getty demand letters; the money Getty can receive from the vast majority of infringements does not cover the costs of filing a lawsuit, let alone litigating one.

Based on those assumptions, taking night photos of the Eiffel Tower to share with friends or post to social media, should not be a problem. Even minor commercial uses such as showing in a fine art gallery, uploading to non-rights managed stock photo sites or even as part of a book compilation is unlikely to warrant any legal action.

Where photographers should consider requesting approval is for commercial or high visibility uses. An Eiffel Tower night photo on the cover of Time Magazine could elicit a call from the Société as would use on product packaging or a movie poster. The risk of the Société initiating legal action increases dramatically when the infringement has high public exposure and high revenue. The penalties can be heavy; far less than any licensing fee.


So, if you are going to photograph the Eiffel Tower at night primarily for personal use or a use with limited economic value, then you are probably not going to get into trouble. However, for a commercial use, err on the side of caution or risk the wrath of the Société d’Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel.

I am sure some of you may have other opinions or advice for photographers than I have presented here, perhaps you are more informed about French copyright law than I am and could add to the discussion. If so, please let the readers know what you think in the comments section below.

About the author

Steve Schlackman

As a photographer and Patent Attorney with a background in marketing, Steve has a unique perspective on art and law. Should you have any questions on Intellectual Property contact him at [email protected] His photography can be seen online at or on display at the Emmanuel Fremin Gallery in New York City.


Click here to post a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • im sorry not to be rude but i just dont like this law and its not fair because what happen if someone get married in front of the Eiffel tower and take a picture and post it how much will they get fined for it and so wrong can we even take a picture and not put it on the internet. 🙁 :,(

  • It’s only a matter of time before this aberration of a “law” is challenged in court and overturned. In effect this is saying that the group that manages the Eiffel Tower owns part of the Paris skyline, at least a night, a patently absurd notion.

  • I thought no permission was needed to publish photographs of people or buildings for editorial purposes (books, magazines, newspapers). That would include a cover on Time magazine. Is the French law different? Would a newspaper photographer in France then need prior permission to publish an image of the Eiffel Tower at night?

    • I would have to look at the specific rules for France, but what I can tell you is that the news and editorial issues for copyright in the U.S. are part of the fair use doctrine. There is no generalized fair use doctrine across the EU, although it is possible that those protections are part of a directive or case law.

      It sounds like a good blog article though and I will put it on my list of topics so I can give you a more complete answer.

      • I have to disagree with your assessment that “the news and editorial issues for copyright in the U.S. are part of the fair use doctrine”. Fair Use isn’t that simple. If it was, “Time Magazine” (to use the above example) would be able to simply take any photo they want, without payment, with impunity, as permission wouldn’t be required. There would be no “AP Photo”, as editorial photos couldn’t be subject to any licensing fees.

        While editorial usages qualify as “Fair Use”, simply stating that they are Fair Use leaves out a lot of the nuance of the law.

  • Hi, Steve: Thanks for the comprehensive discussion. I posted a nighttime image of the Tower today (126th birthday of the tower) and got a note from a follower about the copyright issue. I had no idea. Since I’m not being asked by Time magazine to put it on their cover, I guess my chances are pretty good. Anyway, I put a link to your article in my response to the reader. I hope that’s OK.

The Latest From Artrepreneur

  • Art Walks Put California on Parade

    For most Californians, walking yields to driving as the main mode of transportation. Driving is such a driving force for the state’s residents that “Saturday Night Live” created a recurring sketch about soap opera characters […]

  • The Future is Bright, Say Art Entrepreneurs

    According to a new report by the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP) the old adage of the struggling artist may officially be a myth. SNAAP’s special report, “Career Skills and Entrepreneurship Training for […]

  • Artist Profile: Natalia Nakazawa — Art, Work, and Life

    Natalia Nakazawa is a visual artist who works in mixed media to create paintings, tapestries, and collages. Her latest installation was displayed in a window of the iconic art deco Clocktower Building in Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood. The […]

  • Art Business Conferences for the Art Entrepreneur

    Are you on your way to becoming a thriving art entrepreneur? Check out these upcoming art business conferences to increase your chances for success! The post Art Business Conferences for the Art Entrepreneur appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • Eight Artist in Residence Programs to Launch Your Career

    We’ve previously reviewed how important it is to craft a bio and resume that details your art career, and today we’ll discuss one essential element that’s sure to make your career stand out: the Artist in Residence. Artist in […]

  • Write an Artist Bio to Get Noticed

    Most artists are used to expressing themselves in creative ways, but fewer understand the importance of expressing who they are in words. In this article, we'll review the creating an artist bio while offering some useful tips on its content. The […]

  • Balancing a Full-Time Job with Fulfilling Creativity

    Need more time in your day to work on creative endeavors? Here are few ideas that may help. The post Balancing a Full-Time Job with Fulfilling Creativity appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • Launching an Art Startup? These Online Resources Can Help.

    Launching your own art startup can be scary. Here are a few tips and online resources that may help. The post Launching an Art Startup? These Online Resources Can Help. appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • Expanding Your Art Business Beyond You [Part 2]

    Are you ready to expand your art business? Here's what you need to know about hiring and terminating employees, employee retirement plans and vacation and sick leave. The post Expanding Your Art Business Beyond You [Part 2] appeared first on […]

  • You Don’t Have to be an Artist to Work with Art

    Just because you don’t possess any artistic abilities – or just because you haven’t made it as an artist yet – doesn’t mean you can’t have a creative, art-filled career. There are plenty of “art […]

  • Expanding Your Art Business Beyond You

    Artists successfully running their own art business may be ready to hire an employee. We've covered everything you need to know, from tax requirements to insurance obligations. The post Expanding Your Art Business Beyond You appeared first on […]

  • What Photographers Need to Know About Shooting People [with Cameras]

    In this article, we'll review a key example of publicity and privacy issues, and what you need to know to keep your photography in the clear. The post What Photographers Need to Know About Shooting People [with Cameras] appeared first on […]

  • Getting What You Want: Basic Negotiation Tips For Creatives

    Selling and negotiating can be very intimidating. Fear not! Here are some common sense tips to negotiation that can help you get what you want. The post Getting What You Want: Basic Negotiation Tips For Creatives appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • How to Sell Art [Without Being Annoying]

    Most artists will tell you that the hardest part of their job is trying to sell their artwork to the masses. Sure, they love the creativity and the freedom being an artist provides, but how can they make a living unless they sell their work? While […]

  • Museums Deck the Halls with Holiday Cheer for All

    Check out seasonal exhibits from some of the country’s top art museums. The post Museums Deck the Halls with Holiday Cheer for All appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • Why Galleries Should Get Down with Art Fairs [A Useful Guide]

    As we're winding down from celebrating Art Basel Miami Beach, we're thinking about all the different ways galleries and artists can benefit from participating in these international art fairs. The post Why Galleries Should Get Down with Art Fairs [A […]

  • Your All Access Pass to Art Basel

    Dying to tackle Art Basel Miami Beach, but not sure where to start? You won't want to miss these stunning displays of the best of contemporary art. The post Your All Access Pass to Art Basel appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • Get Your Networking on at Miami Art Week

    Miami Art Week is the perfect time for artists to network and gather contacts to keep building an art business. Check out five events primed to bring new opportunities. The post Get Your Networking on at Miami Art Week appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • The Garment District: From Buttons and Bows to a Home for Art

    The Garment District Alliance has worked hard to evolve the area from a faded industrial center to a revitalized business district committed to bringing art to the streets. The post The Garment District: From Buttons and Bows to a Home for Art […]

  • United States of the Art: Six Destinations for the Great American Road Trip

    A cross-country road trip provides plenty of opportunities to create art. The post United States of the Art: Six Destinations for the Great American Road Trip appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • How Does a Photography Business Make Money?

    Photographers are uniquely positioned within the art world to earn money through various revenue streams. Here's how you find work. The post How Does a Photography Business Make Money? appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • The Basics of Insurance Part II: Health Insurance for Artists

    In this article, we’ll a type of insurance that you’ll want to think about as you build your art business – health insurance for artists. The post The Basics of Insurance Part II: Health Insurance for Artists appeared first on […]

  • The Emergence of the Creative Entrepreneur

    The term “starving artist” has long been part of our lexicon, signifying the significant struggle artists face bringing their creative work to market. For the lucky few that survive until they have paid their dues, the career can be […]

  • Seth Godin and Marketing for the Art World

    A good marketing strategy can help grow a business if done well. Let Seth Godin show you how to be a modern marketer in his skillshare video series. The post Seth Godin and Marketing for the Art World appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • These Five Companies Put the Art in Startup

    Technology and art are intersecting in more ways than ever, and today’s art startups are revolutionizing the way art is consumed and collected. Entrepreneurs have been intersecting art and technology since the start of the .com boom. Portfolio […]

  • The Art Museum In The Digital Age

    I talked with Steve Konick, Director of Public Relations and Marketing for the Currier Museum of Art, in Manchester, New Hampshire, to understand why art museums are still relevant The post The Art Museum In The Digital Age appeared first on […]

  • Should I Open a Corporation for My Art Business?

    About 375,000 visual artists claim to be self-employed yet many don't realize that their personal assets can be at risk. Find out how opening a corporation can help protect you. The post Should I Open a Corporation for My Art Business? appeared […]

  • Model Citizens and Protected Images: Work-for-Hire and Right of Publicity

    Last week, we discussed model releases, and an example concerning a model whose image was being used by a company in a more liberal manner than what had originally been agreed upon by the model and the company. You may recall that in this instance, […]

  • Does Copyright and Trademark Law Protect 3D Printing?

    3D printing is a relatively new art form is sweeping the internet and worrying designers and Hollywood executives alike. Along with the advent of 3D printing, a steady stream of piracy and copyright infringement cases have been reported by industry […]

  • Consider this tip before signing an International Art Contract

    Most art galleries participate in art fairs throughout the year. Many of those fairs are international, such as Art Basel Switzerland or the Hong International Art Fair. International art fairs are an excellent way to position your gallery in […]

  • Six Steps to Safer Image Sharing

    Despite the unfortunate reality that image sharing on the Internet can lead to misappropriation of your work, there are some steps that can minimize the risks. The post Six Steps to Safer Image Sharing appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • Does Freedom of Speech Protect Taking Photos of People Through Windows?

    Fine art Photographer Arne Svenson spent a year secretly taking photos of the Fosters, a family living across the street from his home. Does the Foster's Right to Privacy outweigh Svenson's Freedom of Expression? The post Does Freedom of Speech […]

  • Four Reasons Artists Should Hire Lawyers

    Think artists can't afford to hire lawyers? Actually, artists can't afford to not have one by their side. Here's four reasons why. The post Four Reasons Artists Should Hire Lawyers appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • Death and Taxes: Save Millions Through Careful Estate Planning

    Artists and collectors can minimize estate taxes on artworks by employing a planning strategy and understanding the complexities involved with assessing the work's fair market value. The post Death and Taxes: Save Millions Through Careful Estate […]

  • Can You Spot a Fake? The Trouble with Authenticating Art

    What are the challenges for collectors in authenticating artworks? What are the legal remedies when a purchased artwork is discovered to be a forgery? The post Can You Spot a Fake? The Trouble with Authenticating Art appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]