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© Jeff Matthews     entry Aug 2015

Carlo Brogi, the Right of Panorama and 'No Photos, Please'

Both images are by Carlo Brogi, (1850 - 1925) one of the pioneers of early Italian photography in the late 1800s  He is the author of many landscapes and views of cities in Italy. He was from Florence but took some fine photos of Naples, a few of which look like the better-known Alinari photos from the same period; yet, Brogli has much to offer. I like these two: one is of the 1895 eruption of Vesuvius, remarkable because the persons in the photo are moving towards the eruption! The other is of the then-new road, via Tasso (opened 1886), coming down from Vomero to connect to the Chiaia section of town, a very important urban development in those days. This photo, too, is remarkable, because you can still see the Bay of Naples. That entire side of the street (with that single building, still there, by the way) is now solid with construction along its 2 km length and has been so for many decades.

Brogli's importance is perhaps less as a photographer than as a fighter for what we now call Freedom of Panorama (FOP) (from the German, Panoramafreiheit); that is, the right to stand on public property and take a photograph of buildings and monuments in plain sight, even statuary and other works of art that are in plain view of the public. Depending on the jurisdiction (the country), you may then (maybe) use your photo for you own commercial or artistic (or both) purposes.

You, with your selfie-taking digital picture phone, may just take all that for granted since it is true that most restrictions on photography are assumed to apply to commercial photography. That is to say, no one will bust you for using your phone to take a shot of the Eiffel tower or the Colosseum, BUT if they see you setting up a commercial looking piece of equipment and taking light readings on your light-read-majig, you may indeed be shooed away since France and Italy do not recognize "Freedom of Panorama." (There are, of course, places in the world where the authorities don't recognize any other freedoms, either, and demand baksheesh just to let you bring a camera into their backwaters; if you refuse to pay, they will use you as a trampoline to jump on your iPhone. I was talking about civilized countries.) It gets very complicated. A judge friend of mine said, "If you can choose between a capital murder case and anything having to do with copyright or intellectual property rights, ALWAYS, ALWAYS!! take the murder trial! Did I remember to say ALWAYS?!”

In 1892 Carlo Brogi was at the heart of a revolt by professional photographers in Italy for the right to take photos of public places for commercial use without paying a special tax per photo, which they had been required to do. Sources say that he won the case. (The best source I have found is Fotografia fra Arte e Storia, Il "Bulletino della Società Fotografica Italiana, 1889-1914, by Elviro Puorto. 1996, Alfredo Guida Editore, Naples.) Brogli and other prominent photographers of the day, including Alinari, prevailed over the onerous photo tax. Maybe they did, but a lot of time has passed since 1892 and the situation in Italy regarding commercial and even private, non-commercial use of photos seems to me to be precarious.

I remember on many occasions being told that I could not take photographs in the National Museum in Naples or at archaeological sites. I didn't argue because (1) I didn't know if those place were public or not and (2) I didn't know that it didn't matter. No pictures meant no pictures. Fortunately, that situation changed about 10 years ago and now, no one will bother you if walk into the museum and snapshoot your head off. But if you are obviously a pro, they'll stop you. Go get a license. If you are outside on a public street (at least in Italy) and taking a shot of a well-known building, you may still be stopped, but I'm not sure because it's getting more complicated and restrictive almost in direct proportion to the ease with which modern camera technology makes it possible to circumvent such restrictions. (“What? You want me to take out my eye to see if it's really a camera?!”).

Consider that in July of this year the European Parliament was considering a French proposal to make even you (private citizen) get authorization from artists or architects in order to “publish” any photo of their art or architecture. This includes buildings and installation art and statuary, set up in a public square, temporarily or permanently, because, after all, the artists maintain the intellectual property right to their own creations, right? RIGHT?! You don't know? Welcome to the club. (I warned you—take the murder trial.)


If that proposal had passed, the Right of Panorama would have disappeared in Europe. The European Parliament
overwhelmingly rejected the proposal, thus continuing to recognize preservation of a physical public domain and of freedom to photograph and use pictures of buildings and works of art such as sculptures without having to pay a fee or negotiate a licence. Public space is therefore recognised as a resource which can’t be privatized. If that proposal had passed it would have effected private and professional photographers and would have required many hundreds of thousands of photos of public buildings in Europe posted on Wikipdia and other photo-sharing and social media platforms to be deleted. The European Parliament, however, also failed to vote to expand Freedom of Panorama to all members of the European Union (meaning France and Italy), so the battle will be joined again in the autumn.


There's a 1962 film with the great Neapolitan comic Totò called Totòtruffa (roughly, Totò, the Con Man) in which he famously "sells" the Fontana di Trevi in Rome (the one with Three Coins) to a gullible tourist. Less remembered is the scene where he tries to charge tourists for taking pictures of the fountain. So far, that is not going to happen, but you never know. Oh, they have also, for some reason, now divided innocent private snapshots from archival material of use to researchers. That is, while I am now free (at least for now) to go into the museum and go nuts with my camera on all the exhibits (and I have done that!) they will not let me photograph an entry in an old (out of copyright, public domain) diary, for example. (Strange, I have done that, too. I think the librarian just liked me.)

Restrictions seem to be increasing everywhere. In the United States, some public parks are so restrictive when it comes to photography that there is now a so-called “Ansel Adams act” before congress (in honor of the great landscape photographer - b.1902-d.1984) which would curtail the right of park officials to tell you that you just can't walk up and take a picture of that thing over there...that Grand Canyon thing.

An Italian journalist has said, “We need a Carlo Brogli law!”

[See related item on copyright and music here.]



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