Online Photos Can’t Be Used Without Permission, EU Court Rules

A Virginia federal court sparked quite a controversy among photographers last month when it ruled that copying photos found on the Internet is fair use. Now a European Union court has just issued a landmark ruling that states you can’t simply republish a photo because it’s freely accessible online — you need the photographer’s permission first.

Unlike in the Virginia case, in which a photographer’s photo was used without permission on a commercial website, this latest EU case (Land Nordrhein-Westfalen v Dirk Renckhoff) involved a secondary school student downloading a photo from a travel website and using it in a school presentation that was also published on the school’s website.

The photographer who shot the photo, Dirk Renckhoff, discovered the unauthorized usage and sued the school seeking €400 in damages. And unlike in the Virginia case, the EU court has ruled in Renckhoff’s favor.

“The posting on a website of a photograph that was freely accessible on another website with the consent of the author requires a new authorization by that author,” the Court of Justice of the European Union writes. “Mr. Renckhoff claims that he gave a right of use only to the operators of the travel website and that the posting of the photograph on the school website is an infringement of his copyright.”

“[A]ny use of a work by a third party without such prior consent must be regarded as infringing the copyright of that work,” the court continues.

Basically, the court is affirming that you can’t simply republish a photo anywhere you’d like on the Internet just because it’s freely accessible elsewhere on the Web.

Also, the court strongly states that it’s not the photographer’s responsibility to protect his photo from copyright infringement, stating: “it is of little importance if, as in the present case, the copyright holder does not limit the ways in which the photograph may be used by internet users.”

Here’s the full statement released by the court:

“The directive aims to establish a high level of protection for authors, allowing them to obtain an appropriate reward for the use of their works, including on the occasion of communication to the public,” the court says.