In the last few days there was quite of a storm in the
free-content world raised by an amendment introduced by the French
MEP Jean-Marie Cavada in the InfoSoc evaluation report made by
Julia Reda. The amendment (one of more than 500 proposed in the
commission that discussed the report) basically forbids Freedom
of Panorama (FoP) in Europe, by allowing only non-commercial
uses of reproductions of copyrighted works in public places.
The longer story: In 2001, the European Council and
Parliament adopted directive
2001/29/EC “on the harmonisation of certain aspects of
copyright and related rights in the information society”,
short the InfoSoc directive. In late 2014, the Internal Affairs
Committee appointed Julia
Reda to create a report on
the implementation of this directive and to offer advice on how
should the European Commission tackle a new copyright directive. So
far, the report was presented to the Committee and it received over
500 amendments; the Committee voted on them on June 16th and some
(including Mr. Cavada’s amendment on FoP) were adopted. The
next step is for the Parliament to vote on the report in early
July. Then, in late 2015 or early 2016, the Commission will
begin drafting the new directive which will pass through the
European Council and Parliament.
In a long blog
post, Mr. Cavada justifies his amendment. The gist of the post
Le combat […] est
[…] mené avant tout pour permettre aux monopoles
américains tels que Facebook ou encore Wikimédia,
d’échapper au versement des droits aux
Here is my translation in English:
This war is waged in order to
allow American monopolies such as Facebook or Wikimedia to skip
paying royalties to creators.
I thought a short FAQ from a Wikipedian specifically regarding
this blog post would be useful. The questions are the ones I see
asked around me, on Facebook or blogs and the answers are
exclusively my own opinion. This post assumes you know a bit about
copyright and Freedom of Panorama. You can find more generic
information written by Wikimedians on
Q1: What is the difference
between Wikimedia and Wikipedia?
Q2: Is Wikimedia a monopoly? How about
A2: Wikimedia is most definitely not a monopoly.
Beyond Wikipedia, the movement expanded in many different areas,
such as Public Domain original works (Wikisource), tourism guides
(Wikivoyage), community journalism (Wikinews) etc. In mst of these
fields the Wikimedia websites are not even close to being leaders,
let alone a monopoly.
Wikipedia on the other hand is a different
story. Thanks in no small part to Google’s rating algorithms,
Wikipedia has become the dominant player in the
area of general information on a subject. While this is still far
from a monopoly (other websites do exist and they do get traffic),
one can understand how this dominant position might bother some
Q3: Is Wikimedia an American
A3: The simple answer is that, with the 250+
language versions, with volunteers from almost every country and
with chapters (local NGOs) in almost 100 countries, Wikimedia
cannot be considered “American” and Mr. Cavada is
simply playing with terms in order to align Wikimedia with Facebook
and other established content publishers.
However, this answer is far for complete. There are many
frictions withing the Wikimedia community (this
NY Times article is relevant) and many of those are about the
fact that the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF), that hosts Wikipedia and
the other sites is based in the US (see this
thread, for instance). My personal opinion is that this kind of
argument will remain present no matter where the Foundation is
Also, the influence of chapters is not as high as some believe.
In 2011, their ability to fundraise using the Wikimedia trademarks
was severely limited (see the WMF’s executive directors
recommendations at the time and the other pages linked from
there), concentrating all the movement’s funds in the hands
of a single entity and making the global chapters dependent on the
decisions of a funding committee. Leaving aside the personal pride
of the chapters and the fact that this limited the ways one could
donate (no more phone donations, higher costs for wire transfers
etc.), this is obviously bad news for the volunteers in countries
that are under sanctions from the US (because money transfer to and
from these countries are forbidden) for the WMF. Again, my opinion
is that this is not a US-specific problem, but an internal issue of
Q4: Is Wikimedia financed by monetizing content? Is it
making a profit?
A4: Definitely not. Wikimedia is maintained
by an NGO, curated by volunteers and financed from
Q5: Mr. Cavada says Wikimedia requests high-quality
images that can be used for commercial purposes, thus preventing
the right-owners from collecting royalties. Is that
A5: I am not sure what he refers to, but it sounds
like he talks about the GLAM partnerships
(Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums). While there are many
types of partnerships (wikipedian
in residence, content
tagging etc.), they are all based on the free will of the
partners and, more often that not, refer to works already in the
Public Domain. The Cultural Entities that donate high-quality
content to Wikipedia do so because they understand that spreading
and reusing their content makes them known to the
public and can attract future (paying) visitors. We also have to
keep in mind that usually GLAMs do not own the copyright on the
works they host; at most, they are entitled to the database
For the “normal” users that make their own pictures
and upload them to Wikipedia, there is no such request enforced.
They can contribute as they see fit, as long as they respect other
Q6: Does Wikipedia hurt European copyright
A6: This is not about Wikipedia vs. the
copyright holders, but about free content and
balances. As I said in A4,
the Wikimedia sites are maintained by a non-commercial entity, so
they could in theory use Mr. Cavada’s proposal to keep using
images of buildings under copyright.
However, at the very core of Wikipedia is the respect of the
user’s freedoms (now you know what “free” stands
for in “The free encyclopedia”), so we want to make
sure reusers of Wikipedia content can do anything with our content,
as long as attribution is offered. This means that some people that
were simply monetizing the original works in question instead of
building on them to offer added value to consumers will have
something to lose.
On the other hand, the fact the Wikipedia content is free also
means that European entities that are prepared to embrace the
change can win from it. For instance, architects could use free
images to build a portfolio instead of employing a professional
photographer. Cultural entities can complement and improve their
exhibits by using free content (see the examples in
A5), bringing in more visitors and thus more
Finally, for the end-users the main benefit is not quantifiable
in money, but it undoubtedly exists: the access to higher-quality,
In conclusion, we can say that while the usual way of earning
money from copyright work is somehow affected by FoP, the overall
benefits far outweigh this loss (the references cited here
should convince you of that). Even copyright holders can adapt and
compensate the losses by using free content to their advantage.
Q7: Can’t the Europeans create their own
Wikipedia to compete with the
A7: It’s not that simple. Starting
from 0 would imply way too much financial and human effort. One
could, of course, start by using Wikipedia’s content (since
it is freely licensed). However, Wikipedia’s license
3.0) is what’s called “strong
copyleft“, meaning that any good changes in the new
project could be integrated back into Wikipedia. In order for the
new project to succeed, it would need to convince a critical mass
of users to move from Wikipedia to the new project. Historically,
this has proven tedious. Here are a few examples from Romania:
- The project documenting wooden churches in Romania begun at the
Romanian Wikipedia with 4 or 5 very active members, one of which
was an architect with a PhD in the area. Because of infighting the
project now has a single active member; he’s always saying
that he hates the way Wikipedia works (including the license), but
there is no other project that would offer his images the same
exposure to the public as Wikipedia.
- Another example is Enciclopedia României. It was started by
wikimedians leaving the project in 2007 and was published under a
non-commercial license, just like Mr. Cavada’s proposal would
impose. The project now has only 5000 articles (compared to
hundreds of thousands in the Romanian Wikipedia), mainly because
the founders could not increase the contributor base – they
simply did not have anything over Wikipedia.
The European Commission did in fact start a project meant to
bring the European heritage in the spotlight: Europeana. While it was not designed
to directly compete with Wikipedia, but with commercial initiatives
like the Google Art Gallery, it is an interesting case study.
The project was aimed at reusers, not end-users and imposed a
drastic license (CC-0, which is basically “no
copyright”) for metadata and descriptions, but kept the
original license for the images and texts published. This allowed
content exchanges with Wikipedia: In 2012, Europeana integrated
more than 12.000 free images of monuments in Romania from the
Wiki Loves Monuments
contest with help from the CIMEC.
Since then, other countries have used Wikipedia content to enhance
Europeana. The CC-0 Europeana descriptions were in turn used to
generate articles in Wikipedia, just like it would happen to an
Q8: So what do you make of Jean Paul Cavada’s
A8: That’s a very difficult question. While
it raises legitimate questions regarding the responsibility of
publishers such as Facebook or Wikipedia, that have appeared time
and again since the dawn of the Internet, the approach taken seems
flawed. Not only Wikipedia is nothing like Facebook, forbidding all
commercial use of copyrighted content in public places even in
countries that currently allow it would most likely hit more the
local, European, reusers than global Internet companies, which have
the knowledge and the money to avoid these regulations.
It’s far more likely that his amendment will hit the
souvenir shop next to you than Facebook or Wikimedia.
Q9: Aren’t you biased? Why should I trust
A9: You shouldn’t believe anyone blindly,
but rather think for yourself. Check out (with a critical eye) the
sources available on the Internet and try to answer the following
questions for yourself:
- How much are the original creators (sculptors, architects etc.)
earning in countries without FoP?
- Are the original creators the ones earning or losing that money
or do they go to big businesses? Think of the image of the Eiffel
Tower at night.
- How many court decisions have there been against big re-users
in countries without FoP?
- How much are the re-users losing by not being able to use those
- How much are the final users losing both in terms of money
(monopoly implies a premium) and non-financial value by not having
access to the creative works that could appear if FoP existed?
- Considering all the answers above, is the FoP bringing value to
society or not?
Questions about the situation in Romania
What’s the FoP status in
A10: Reproductions of copyrighted works in the
public space can be used for non-commercial purposes. See this page for more details.
Q11: What’s the Romanian
MEPs’ position on this?
A11: I have contacted all 32 MEPs and so far I
- a Socialist representative assigned an assistant to look into
the matter; he assured me that the objections regarding the
ambiguity in “non-commercial usages” will be taken into
- an ALDE MEP assured me that she will look into the matter and
will discuss it with her colleagues from the same European
- finally, I have received another email from an assistant
confirming the receipt of the email
- Update: Another independent MEP has told me
that “he values the freedom of speech, but also copyright and
the right of each country to decide on the best way to protect this
according to the local cultural landscape” and he will vote
“according to all available data and the requests received
from Romanian citizens”. So I guess he recieved more emails
regarding the subject, which is a good thing.
What other questions do you have regarding Jean-Marie
Cavada’s blogpost or the larger issue of FoP in the European
legislation? Ask in a comment and I’ll do my best to provide
an answer based on sources available on the Internet.