Commons:Freedom of panorama

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In almost all countries, art, architecture, and other works are protected by copyright for a specified period. That means any photograph taken of such a work during the copyright period is a derivative work, provided (under US law) that the photograph displays the quantum of originality required for copyright protection of a derivative work.

A derivative work usually requires a license from the creator of the work. However, in about half of all countries there is an exception in copyright law which eliminates the need for a license. We call this exception freedom of panorama (FOP), a phrase derived from the German term Panoramafreiheit.

The works to which the FOP exception applies vary widely from country to country. The exception generally applies only to works on permanent public display. In some countries, this is only in outdoor public places; in others it extends to indoor places where admission is charged. It may cover only architecture, only architecture and sculpture, or all copyrightable works including literary works.

Note that in every country, even one without an FOP exception, once a work goes out of copyright it may be freely photographed. Also, the exception does not eliminate the need for a license from the photographer.

Buildings and sculptures as works of art

Collegium Stomatologicum in Poznan [pl], the author of the work depicted in the photograph is Grzegorz Sadowski.

Every building and sculpture we can see in our neighbourhood is subject to the copyright law, as far as it incorporates artistic creativity. The Berne convention, art.2-1 explicitly states so: "The expression "literary and artistic works" shall include [...] works of drawing, painting, architecture, sculpture, engraving and lithography".

Usually, the copyright law acts mention such an object explicitly as their subject matter. This is reproduced in national laws (for instance the US Copyright Law in §102-8).

The owners of buildings should not be assumed to hold the copyright of their buildings. For this reason, in countries without freedom of panorama, Wikimedia Commons requires proof of copyright release from the copyright holder when hosting any images of those buildings. If the owner of a building uploads an image to Commons, presume that they do not own the copyright. Ask them to provide either proof of copyright transfer from the architect to them, or otherwise, ask them to direct the architect to apply a Commons-compatible license to the image.

The Berne convention Article 9 explicitly states that:

  1. Authors of literary and artistic works protected by this Convention shall have the exclusive right of authorizing the reproduction of these works, in any manner or form.
  2. It shall be a matter for legislation in the countries of the Union to permit the reproduction of such works in certain special cases, provided that such reproduction does not conflict with a normal exploitation of the work and does not unreasonably prejudice the legitimate interests of the author.
  3. Any sound or visual recording shall be considered as a reproduction for the purposes of this Convention.

This has been reproduced for instance in § 106 of the US Copyright Law, and corresponding national laws.

According to copyright laws, then:

Taking pictures of buildings is a reproduction, which must theoretically be authorized by the architect if the right to reproduction is not in the national copyright law.

This is the situation for any derivative work based on any artistic creation.

Photographs of buildings

A photograph of a building or even any scene in a city or a village inevitably depicts some pieces of architecture or even sculptures. The photograph may or may not have its own creative element, making it a work of its own, but the value of this work clearly depends on the value in the works that are depicted on it. In case of such a dependency, the photograph is deemed to be a derivative work. This restriction on building photographs is often weakened by the de minimis principle.

Some de minimis cases may be explicit in national laws, but the principle may apply also otherwise. In some countries there is a separate clause for photographs or pictures of buildings in public places (or of any works of architecture).

Choice of law

The question of what country's law applies in a freedom of panorama case is an unsettled issue. There are several potentially conflicting legal principles, any of which might be used to determine the applicable law (see Choice of law). The law used is likely to be one of the following: the country in which the object depicted is situated, the country from which the photograph was taken, or the country in which the photo is used (published/viewed/sold). Because of the international reach of Commons, ensuring compliance with the laws of all countries in which files are or might be reused is not realistic. Since the question of choice of law with regard to freedom of panorama cases is unsettled, current practice on Commons is to retain photos based on the more lenient law of the country in which the object is situated and the country in which the photo is taken. For example, North Korea has a suitable freedom of panorama law, while South Korea's law, limited to non-commercial uses, is not sufficient for Commons. As a result of the practice of applying the more lenient law, we would generally retain photos taken from North Korea of buildings in South Korea (e.g., File:Joint Security Area from North Korea.jpg) as well as photos taken from South Korea of buildings in North Korea (e.g., File:070401 Panmunjeom3.jpg).

Uploading images covered under Freedom of Panorama to the Commons

When uploading images subject to Freedom of Panorama provisions to the Commons, please tag them with an FoP template, which contains a legal explanation on the copyright status of the work, and sorts the image into a category of images subject to these provisions. If the country the image is taken in does not have these provisions, or only allows them for non-commercial purposes, they cannot be licensed under a license compatible with our Licensing policy and must be deleted. Please file requests for deletion at Commons:Deletion requests.

For images of artwork that are covered by Freedom of Panorama in the country where the photo was taken, the {{Not-free-US-FOP}} template can be included to advise reusers that the US (where Commons is hosted) has no Freedom of Panorama provisions for artwork and that the image might not be freely reusable in the US. This template should not be used for images that only show architectural works, which are covered by US Freedom of Panorama provisions.

Nuances in the panorama freedom – German case

We will discuss here the case of the German legislation. Here is the content of §59 of the German Copyright Law (Urheberrechtsgesetz, UrhG):

  1. It shall be permissible to reproduce, by painting, drawing, photography or cinematography, works which are permanently located on public ways, streets or places and to distribute and publicly communicate such copies. For works of architecture, this provision shall be applicable only to the external appearance.
  2. Reproductions may not be carried out on a work of architecture.

Quoted from an English translation.

Publishing of reproductions

The article above allows one to reproduce and publish photographs taken in public places. It is understood that this includes publishing the pictures in a commercial way.

Public places

German law allows photographers to take pictures that are visible from publicly accessible places. This includes private ways and parks with common access. However, it does not include railway station buildings or platforms. The picture must be taken from a publicly accessible point. It is not permitted to take a picture of such a building from a private house or from a helicopter.

In other countries, these restrictions are sometimes less stringent. For instance, the Australian, Austrian, British, Mexican, Indian, and United States laws allow taking pictures of publicly accessible interiors.

Permanent vs temporary

The exhibited objects must be exhibited in a permanent way. If a work is presented on a public place temporarily, one may be obliged to get the explicit permission to take its picture.

Whether a work is installed at a public place permanently or not is not a question of absolute time, but a question of what the intention was when the work was placed there. If it was put there with the intention of leaving it in the public place indefinitely or at least for the whole natural lifetime of the work, then it is "permanent".

A sculpture is typically placed with the intent of leaving it for an indefinite time. But if it was clear from the beginning that it would be left there only, say, for three years and then be moved to a museum, then the placement was not "permanent". On the other hand, if a sculpture was placed with the intent of leaving it "open end", but is then removed due to new construction plans some time later, its placement remains "permanent" even if the sculpture is eventually removed.

Even quickly decaying works can thus be "permanent" and therefore be subject to freedom of panorama. Street paintings, ice, sand, or snow sculptures rarely last more than a few days or weeks. If they're left in public space for their natural lifetime, they are considered "permanent" all the same. But if, for instance, an ice sculpture is exhibited only for a few hours and then moved to cold storage, it may not be permanently placed. (See also archived discussion of 09/2013).

Architecture vs sculptures

German law allows photography of both buildings and sculptures. The situation in the United States is different. See below.

Music, literature etc.

Sometimes, a literary work is a part of a building or sculpture or is presented on a publicly accessible plaque. In most jurisdictions, the literary work has a separate copyright which must be considered separately unless it is an integral part of the building or sculpture. A plaque describing the building or sculpture will not qualify unless the work is in one of the eleven jurisdictions which include an exception for literary works.

Acknowledgment of source

The copyright law usually obliges the photographer to credit the authors of works depicted in his photograph. That usually means that the photographer must provide a description of the depicted objects and the authors thereof. However, the photographer can be exempted from the obligation when the authorship is difficult to deduce. For instance, German copyright law says in §62 that the photographer does not need to credit the author if authorship is not clearly present on the object that is depicted.

The right to modify

The panorama freedom is restricted to taking pictures of the actual objects. Generally, the freedom to modify such pictures is restricted. For example, the German law in §62 forbids any modifications except those technically required by the method of replication.

Further derivative works

A derivative work based on a photograph is most often also a derivative work based on the depicted object. The panorama freedom usually does not include the delegation of the right to authorize the derivative works. The author of a photograph has the right to authorize the derivative work based on the photograph only to the extent that results from the creative element of their work. However, they do not have the right to authorize the derivative work in the extent associated with the original object.

Pictures of public domain objects

Public domain objects are not protected by copyright, so objects of this kind can be freely photographed and the pictures can be published both royalty free and commercially, at least so far as copyright law is concerned (there may be contractual or other restrictions on picture-taking, though, especially on private property). Moreover, pictures of public domain objects can be freely modified and derivative works can be freely developed. For example, old buildings and statues where the architect or artist died more than a certain number of years ago (depending on the country), are in the public domain.

Nuances in the panorama freedom – United States case

The United States copyright law only provides a usable exception for reproductions, publications, and distributions of images of works of architecture that are still in copyright, as provided by the law's Section 120(a). Copyright regulations define "buildings" as follows:

  • The term building means humanly habitable structures that are intended to be both permanent and stationary, such as houses and office buildings, and other permanent and stationary structures designed for human occupancy, including but not limited to churches, museums, gazebos, and garden pavilions. (37 CFR 202.11)

Monuments, statues, gravestones, and other created works can be a problem, as can historical plaques.

Keep the following general (but non-exhaustive) rules in mind:

  • Any artwork or sculpture from before 1929 is automatically in the public domain (PD).
  • Any artwork or sculpture from 1929 to 1978 is PD if it does not have both (a) the word "Copyright" or the © symbol, and (b) the creator's name. The date is not required on sculptures, but is on text. There are several exceptions to this rule, but they are not very common.
  • Any artwork or sculpture from 1978 to 1 March 1989 is PD if tangible copies of it were subsequently sold – with copyright holder's authorization – and its copyright was not registered with the U.S. Copyright Office within 5 years. There are some exceptions to this rule, like a work gaining copyright protection even without registration due to reduced formalities.
  • Any artwork or sculpture from after 1 March 1989 is generally not PD.

For more information on what constitutes publication and other important details, see Commons:Public art and copyrights in the US.

Situation in different countries

This section presents more detailed accounts of the legal status of freedom of panorama in different countries and regions. This is not legal advice, but just for informational purposes.


Summary table

Freedom of panorama by country (Must include commercial use)
Country Buildings 3D artwork 2D artwork Text Public interiors
Albania ?
Algeria [1]
Angola [2]
Antigua and Barbuda [3]
Argentina ?
Armenia ?
Australia [3]
Austria [4]
The Bahamas
Bangladesh [3]
Barbados [3]
Belgium ?
Belize [3]
Bolivia ?
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Brunei [3] ?
Burkina Faso
Canada [3]
Cape Verde
Central African Republic
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Republic of the Congo
Costa Rica
Croatia ?
Curaçao ?
Cyprus ?
Czech Republic ?[5]
Dominican Republic
East Timor [2]
Egypt ?
El Salvador
Equatorial Guinea
Fiji [3]
The Gambia
Grenada [3]
Guinea-Bissau ?
Guyana [3]
Hong Kong [3]
Hungary [6]
India [3]
Republic of Ireland [3]
Israel ?
Ivory Coast
Jamaica [3]
Japan ?
Kenya ? ?
Kosovo ? ? ?
Liechtenstein ? ?
Macau ?
Malta ?
Mauritania [1]
Mexico ?[7] [8]
Federated States of Micronesia
Mongolia ?
Netherlands [9] [9] [10]
New Zealand [3]
North Korea ? ?
North Macedonia
State of Palestine [3]
Papua New Guinea
Paraguay ?
Peru (Andean Community) ?[12] [13]
Portugal [2]
Saint Kitts and Nevis [3]
Saint Lucia [3]
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines [3]
San Marino
São Tomé and Príncipe [2]
Saudi Arabia
Sierra Leone
Singapore [3]
Slovakia ? ?
Solomon Islands [3]
South Africa
South Korea
South Sudan
Sri Lanka
Suriname [9] [9]
Sweden ? ? ? ?
Thailand ?
Trinidad and Tobago
Tunisia [1]
Tuvalu [3]
United Arab Emirates
United Kingdom [3]
United States of America
Uruguay [14]
Vatican City
Venezuela ?
Vietnam [15] [15]
  1. a b c d Limited to locais/lugares públicos (public locations)
  2. a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w "Works of artistic craftsmanship" are OK, "graphic works" are not – see United Kingdom section for commentary.
  3. Except for works, which themselves are components of the structure, including windows in churches and such.
  4. Limited to verejná prostranství (public spaces), the listed examples do not include interiors but they are not excluded explicitly.
  5. Applies only to fine arts, architecture, and applied arts. Does not apply to photographs and maps.
  6. The Mexican law doesn't have a position on this use.
  7. Due to the Mexican law not mentioning what public means, it's supposed that it's also possible.
  8. a b c d Dutch and Surinamese freedom of panorama do not extend to public photographs, maps, applied art, industrial design, and models.
  9. According to existing jurisprudence and legal literature on Dutch FOP, interiors of transportation facilities like railway stations, airports, and covered parking lots are covered by the exception, as well as shopping mall indoors (but not shops within the shopping malls). The exception does not apply to the interiors of schools, operas, entrance halls of businesses, museums, hotels, cafés, and shops.
  10. The new Copyright Act, 2022 of Nigeria, effective 17 March 2023, restricted freedom of panorama to audio-visual and broadcasting media only. Only affects uploads starting on that date. Uploaded photos prior to that date are still under the effect of the old, superseded law and can still be hosted.
  11. The Peruvian law indicates for "work of art" and may include text that does not pass the threshold of a literary work. However, the right of quotation of texts exposed to the public applies.
  12. In architectural works of public areas is permitted regardless of whether they are in external or internal locations with exceptions. In other works are limited in "public places".
  13. Museum indoors only.
  14. a b 2022 revision of Vietnamese copyright law restricted freedom of panorama to non-commercial use, effective 1 January 2023. Only affects uploads from 2023 onwards. Pre-2023 uploads are still under the effect of the old, superseded law and can still be hosted.

Freedom of panorama for tallest works of architecture

Whether freedom of panorama at buildings taller than 500 m. (Blue icon= There is freedom of panorama in this country. Red icon= There is no freedom of panorama in this country.)
Whether freedom of panorama at world's tallest towers TOP 7

Consolidated rules

Freedom of panorama

Click on the links to the right to see consolidated freedom of panorama rules for all countries in each broad region. The lists include countries for which rules have yet to be defined.


The shortcuts below lead to sections giving freedom of panorama rules for each country, where available. If no freedom of panorama rules have been defined for a country, the shortcut leads to the page giving copyright rules for the country.

See also


  • Vogel. In: Gerhard Schricker (Hrsg.): Urheberrecht. Kommentar. 2. Auflage. Beck, München 1999, ISBN 3-406-37004-7
  • Dreier. In: Thomas Dreier/Gernot Schulze: Urheberrechtsgesetz. 2. Auflage. München: Beck 2006 ISBN 340654195X
  • Cornelie von Gierke: Die Freiheit des Straßenbildes (§59 UrhG). In: Hans-Jürgen Ahrens (Hrsg.): Festschrift für Willi Erdmann. Zum 65. Geburtstag. Heymann, Köln u.a. 2002, S. 103-115, ISBN 3-452-25191-8

This page is based on the German Wikipedia article Panoramafreiheit


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