Did You Know it’s Illegal to Photograph the Eiffel Tower at Night?

It’s one of the most photographed and recognizable monuments in modern history. But did you know it’s actually illegal to take pictures of the Eiffel Tower at night?

By way of copyright law in the European Union (EU), any artistic work, be it a photo, painting, song, or even building, is protected “for the lifetime of its creator, plus 70 years.”

Common sense does generally prevail, in that many countries operate a “freedom of panorama” law, whereby cityscape photography is permitted on the basis that the “artwork” — or building — is not the main focus of the piece. However, France is one of a number of countries that chose to opt out of the freedom of panorama via a loophole in EU law.

The creator of the Eiffel Tower died back in 1923, meaning the restrictions on photographing it expired in 1993. However, the lights installed on the Tower in 1985 are considered an independent work of art, and thus, the right to legally take photos of the structure at night is still many decades away.

Having said that, there are very few cases in which the copyright holder takes action against someone using a photo of the landmark; the majority of claims are against large corporations.

Lead image credit: Stephen Leonardi on Unsplash.

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55 Comments

Deleted Account's picture

I believe some hotels in London have the right to move u from a distance from their entrance on the pavement. Think i saw a documentary about it.

Deleted Account's picture

That maybe true and that was the argument of the photographer but the documentary showed many instances of aggression from the doormen and police being complicit.

Matt Murray's picture

In Central London a lot of the seemingly outdoor public space within the city is actually owned by private companies, and they do enforce their lame rules. They ask for permits etc.

Deleted Account's picture

Shoot in Canary Wharf area, of a bank. Permits in hand. Stopped by golf cart driving security fella. He needed to double check everything and we weren't to shoot anything until he returned due to security issues.
During that 30min wait, countless tourists made countless images of the building and a TNT delivery lorry parked in a no waiting zone and the driver cleared off.
Security bloke returned. 'Ok, you can make your photos'
5 min later we were back in the taxi to the airport.
Jobsworths, security and private land/buildings.

Deleted Account's picture

Ansel u may be right but often the police r called and they make u move so many feet away from the premises door. U can argue about it at the police station. I prefer not to have my day ruined

Abel Bautista Palomo's picture

I was asked if my photograph of the london bridge at 5 am (sunrise) was for commercial purposes. In case I said it was I imagine I would have been asked for a permit or whatever.

Kirk Darling's picture

It's not illegal to take pictures of the Eiffel Tower at night.

You can pull out your cell phone right in front of a Parisian gendarme and snap away. He won't arrest you. Nor will a French barrister chase you down to your house in Pittsburgh and call for your extradition.

The illumination display is copyrighted and thus the normal rules of copyright law apply. You can photograph it for your private use, but you cannot publish the photograph without permission, which includes posting on social media.

But that is always true of copyrighted work, even your own photographs. We can all send that lawyer we have on speed dial to hunt down anyone who shares our work on social media.

But we don't, unless it's a business making bank on our work. And neither does the Société d’Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel.

Didn't every photographer already know this?

Rayann Elzein's picture

Of course everyone knows it, but somehow this site is publishing more and more click bait...

Usman Dawood's picture

Literally 3 of my friends just said they had no clue about this. It’s actually not that obvious for most people.

thomas Palmer's picture

There is also Notre Dame de Paris, building is 800 years old but the organ has been redone recently, so you are fucked if you want to photograph indoor ... Stupid laws

michaeljin's picture

This.

Elan Govan's picture

Now Jack, this has absolutely nothing what so ever to do with the EU and Brixit, is it? or just another example of uptight french lawmaking.

I remember going to Windsor Castle during the 2012 Olympics, and we were all made to go through this vigorous security checks by the palace staff, and they removed a small Swiss army knife out of my wife's handbag and duly placed it in a plastic bag together with her details. She collected the offending item on the way home.

Apparently the offending Swiss army knife is safe to own outside the palace, just do not try to take it in to the castle.

Elan Govan's picture

As usual, assuming too much when ever a brown face shows up here in a discussion. What a prat. I was making an observation to the author of this article.

Just because I look brown does not mean I do not care about the well being of others. To be fair the staff at Windsor Castle were really professional and mindful of their conduct. Something you could learn from.
Good day.

Philipp Pley's picture

Elan, why are YOU making this about race? At no point was the colour of your skin ever mentioned by anyone other than yourself. Honestly your remarks are so unnecessary and uncalled for.

Usman Dawood's picture

I'm with Philipp on this one, what does your melanin content have anything to do with this discussion?

Elan Govan's picture

You two ought to read the recent report by the EU first. As much as people like to pretend, race is a big part of planet earth's historical shame and headache. Have a good read.

Ask yourself what does "WE BRITS" actually means.

So please don't assume you know me like the back of your hand. Don't assume period.

Every country has its own funny little ways of conducting business and since we are discussing, copyright laws, not every country has the same copyright laws world over. Its better to know the difference before travelling rather than assume.

That is how I keep myself safe every time I travel.

As for the incident at Windsor Castle, my wife is English and she was the one with the Swiss army knife, and I was merely articulating her views.

Good day, and please don't assume. Spend some time reading the EU report. Far more educational than reading my comments here.

Usman Dawood's picture

Brit is a nationality and your skin color had nothing to do with this discussion until you brought it up. You're now going way off the field with your points and talking about things no one actually brought up or discussed.

No one in this specific discussion presumed anything about you we simply pointed out how your skin colour had nothing to do with what we're talking about lol. I don't know where you're getting this context from. Are you mixing up comment threads or talking to multiple people?

Elan Govan's picture

Looks like I have unwittingly hit a raw nerve here, and my comments on copy right is completely ignore, hence the bias.

Have a nice day, I will not be replying to anyone in this article. Better things to do.

Usman Dawood's picture

No nerve you're just arguing against points that you yourself are making up. I've only made one point and that's it. That point is once again, no one in this discussion said anything about your skin color until you mentioned it. It wasn't part of the discussion.

That is still the only point I'm discussing, I don't know why or how you imagined anything other than that.

Elan Govan's picture

Again, I was initially responding to Jack's article until it was hijack. If jack is not happy with my comments, I will reply via private message.

For now, this is not a healthy forum to discuss this issues any further. Good day.

Elan Govan's picture

Anglo Saxons, seriously you want to go that far back. Have a read of the 2000 Race Relation Amendment Act, nothing to do with Anglo Saxons. Enjoy your day. Things to do worthy of my time. Good day.

Elan Govan's picture

Tell that to Stephen Lawrence family. You can contact them via the Met.

Elan Govan's picture

Time for you to get over yourself mate. Your presumption is staggering. Go and have a chat with someone.

Felix C's picture

It was not always that case. I remember the first time seeing the Queen, I was maybe 10 feet away from her, the Duke, the PM and there really was no security for them.

Color Thief's picture

If you don’t know the difference between “x is protected by copyright law” and “taking photos of x is illegal” you probably shouldn’t be publishing articles about the law.

Deleted Account's picture

He's a millennial and British. He knows everything! ;-)

Olivier LAMBERT's picture

Yes and that's a shame ! As a french line producer, on a show we've just produced I had to erase the Eiffel Tour in post production just because the rights were insanely expensive : €15.000 world wide for 2 minutes. I'm sure photographs won't have to pay that much but the idea of paying rights a country's icon is totally counter productive just because WE DO the advertising.

Mark James's picture

One big reason to never give any of my tourist dollars to france. Can you take pictures in Italy? The EU might just be an over regulated bust for me. We have a trip planned for next year, but I'd rather go somewhere I don't have to worry about taking and using pictures.

Deleted Account's picture

It's been mentioned here a lot. Inaccurate and misleading headline.
There are lot of buildings covered by copyright. Here in Belgium, the Atomium is the famous one. Tourist snaps, fine. Use it for any commercial use and you'll get an invoice in the post.
Did a shoot in Paris about 10 years ago, on a bridge and featuring the bridge. The architect wanted €10k for the pleasure! The client really wanted the bridge in the shoot so we struck a deal for half that. Free money for the bloke too, gutting but that's the law.

Richard Mc's picture

Oh the irony.

Net Poser's picture

Over 5 million posts on Instagram. Many at night
https://www.instagram.com/explore/tags/eiffeltower/top/

Spy Black's picture

The Empire State building is also copyrighted. You can't sell images of it without paying a royalty.

Color Thief's picture

Maybe you can explain, then, 17 U.S. Code § 120 - Scope of exclusive rights in architectural works:

"The copyright in an architectural work that has been constructed does not include the right to prevent the making, distributing, or public display of pictures, paintings, photographs, or other pictorial representations of the work, if the building in which the work is embodied is located in or ordinarily visible from a public place."

…or perhaps you, like many, are confusing issues of copyright with those of trademarks,

Spy Black's picture

Perhaps so, I don't really know for sure. I do remember reading something along the lines of the Empire State owners/managers having some kind of legal right to want a piece of your pie if you sell pics of the building for profit.

David B's picture

Well done, good clickbait. But it's wrong. It is NOT illegal to photograph the Eiffel Tower at night. It is technically illegal to *publish* a photograph of it at night with the lights on (commercially or not), but sharing it for non commercial purposes is tolerated and will not put you into trouble. At least it never has until now.
Amateur Fstoppers are welcome in Paris day and night !

Mick Ryan's picture

You’re a bit confused. Anyone can take photos of the tower. It’s ilegal to use the iamges in commercial work without the consent of the artist who created the lightshow. Anyone else can use the photos.

Elliot Sander's picture

Can someone from Fstoppers either edit this article or just delete it entirely. The article is misleading - it's not illegal to take photos of the Eiffel tower at night.

Patrick CLIGNY's picture

It's not illegal to TAKE pictures of the Eiffel tower at night, it's illegal to sell or to publish them without autorisation ...

cameramanDop Shanghai Hong Kong's picture

You can take a picture, but can't use it to make money. That's not the same.

Karsten Helmholz's picture

The illuminated Eiffel Tower has been the go-to choice when teaching people about copyright in photography and the related pitfalls since the 1990 and 1992 court rulings that established the night time illumination as a work of art. The 2005 decision by the French government to not opt for the freedom of panorama changed this, at least from a strictly legal perspective. With freedom of panorama not in place, it is now technically also illegal to photograph the tower illumination (Source: Rau, Wolfgang: "Recht für Fotografen" [Law for Photographers], Rheinwerk, 3rd ed., 2017, pp. 148).
BUT even the SETE (Société d’Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel https://sete.toureiffel.paris/en/sete) says on the Eiffel Tower website (https://www.toureiffel.paris/en/business/use-image-of-eiffel-tower):

"THE TOWER ILLUMINATED
Controlled use

The various illuminations of the Eiffel Tower (golden illumination, twinkling, beacon and events lighting) are protected.
The use of the image of the Eiffel Tower at night is therefore subject to prior authorisation by the SETE. This use is subject to payment of rights, the amount of which is determined by the intended use, the media plan, etc.

Views of the Eiffel Tower taken by private individuals for private use do not require prior agreement. However, professionals must contact our teams, who will inform them of the conditions of use governing images."

This clearly states that from their point of view [sic] photography for private use is permitted. However this still leaves the question of what exactly a professional is and if publishing the photo on revenue based social media sites like Facebook and/or Instagram is considered professional use.

[Edited for clarity]

Deleted Account's picture

It is not forbidden (or illegal) to photograph the Eiffel Tower at night.
It is forbidden to photograph the illumination of the Eiffel tower because it is protected by copyright.
When there is no illumination, or during a black-out, you can take any pictures you want…

https://www.toureiffel.paris/en/business/use-image-of-eiffel-tower

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