Commons:Simple photographs

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Some countries apply special copyright rules (technically, "neighbouring rights" protection) to "simple" photographs, which are not considered photographic works. The protection of such photographs may expire sooner than copyright proper, making the photographs eligible to host on Commons as public domain materials sooner than if they would reach the threshold of originality needed for a "photographic work". This page provides an overview and some guidance.

Note that simple photographic reproductions of two-dimensional public domain works of art are a special case: these are considered by Commons policy not to generate a new copyright – see Commons:When to use the PD-Art tag.

Overview[edit]

There are three basic cases:

  1. Countries that use the threshold of originality to make the distinction. If a photo fails this threshold, it is a "simple photograph", otherwise it is a "photographic work". Such countries place simple photographs, even though they are deemed non-original, under a special protection term.
  2. Countries that make a distinction based on other criteria and place simple photographs under a special protection term.
  3. Countries that do not make the distinction. In such countries, a photograph failing the originality test is simply not copyrighted, and any other photograph is a work and thus subject to the normal copyright terms.

Wherever the threshold of originality is used as a criterion, one should bear in mind that this is a subjective criterion. In some countries, basically anything passes this threshold, while others place the bar higher.

If the table below says the criterion was the threshold of originality or says that the criteria were unknown and gives no specific copyright term for simple photographs, this means that the law makes no special provisions for "simple photographs". In general, if the criteria are unknown, I think one should assume that the threshold of originality applies, as that's the general test whether something is copyrightable at all.

Because of the national treatment defined in international copyright treaties such as the Berne Convention or the Universal Copyright Convention (UCC), a photo that qualifies as a "simple photograph" in its source country may still be considered a "photographic work" in other countries that have a lower threshold of originality. The U.S. has a very low threshold of originality, and it also does not follow the "rule of the shorter term". Because of this, "simple photographs" from non-U.S. countries may be under copyright much longer in the U.S. than in the source country of the photo.

Country table[edit]

Country Distinction criterion Copyright on "simple photographs"
EU countries
Austria If the photo passes the threshold of originality, it is a "work".[1] The threshold is very low, i.e. basically all photos are "works".[2][3][4] 50 years since publication or creation, if unpublished.§73, §74
Belgium The distinction is known art 2, §5, but only works that do not pass the threshold of originality are "simple photographs".[5] Normal copyright rules apply
Bulgaria Not mentioned in the Bulgarian copyright law of 1993, with amendments up to 2000 Normal copyright rules apply
Cyprus Unknown
Czech Republic If the photo passes the threshold of originality, it is a "work".art 2(2) Normal copyright rules apply
Denmark See {{PD-Denmark50}} and Category:PD Denmark. Distinction seems to be threshold of originality.[6] Applies only to photos of EEA nationals or people having their habitual domicile in the EEA.§86(5) 50 years since creation§70(2), if created 1970 or later, none for older ones.§91(5)
Estonia If the photo passes the threshold of originality, it is a "work". No special term is mentioned in Estonian copyright law Normal copyright rules apply
Finland See {{PD-Finland50}} and Category:PD Finland (simple photos). Originality criteria unknown. Copyright council has stated that this photo is to be considered a simple photograph. The Appeal Court of Turku ruled in it's decision 96/1304 that a photograph taken of a landscape did not pass the threshold of originalty. According to the decision, the photograph did not differ from photographs taken from the same place. Thus the photograph was not a result of original creation done by the author and the photograph was considered a simple photograph. Applies only to simple photographs either taken by Finnish nationals or people living in Finland, or first published in Finland §63(1), §63(2), §63(5), and §64, second-but last sub-paragraph 50 years since creation §49a.
France Distinction seems to be threshold of originality.[7], [8] Minimal creativity suffices apparently, e.g. recoloring an image already gives rise to new moral rights.[9] Normal copyright rules apply
Germany If the photo passes the threshold of originality, it is a "work". The threshold is very low, i.e. basically all photos are "works".[10][11] 50y since publ. or broadcast or 50y since creation, if unpublished.§72
Greece No distinction is made in the law. Greek copyright law Normal copyright rules apply
Hungary The law only mentions "artistic photographs" [12]. Criteria unknown, probably threshold of originality. Normal copyright rules apply
Iceland See {{PD-Iceland50}} and files using it. Criteria for distinction unknown. Applies only to Icelandic works.§60(1-4), §62 50y since creation§49Obsolete translation
Ireland No distinction; the law only mentions "photographs".[13] Normal copyright rules apply
Italy See {{PD-Italy}} and Category:PD Italy (20 years after creation). The law lists exactly which kinds of photographs are or are not "simple photographs", and is rather generous.§87 20y since creation. §92
Latvia Not mentioned.Latvian copyright law Normal copyright rules apply
Lithuania If the photo passes the threshold of originality, it is a "work".art. 2(10) Normal copyright rules apply
Luxembourg No distinction mentioned in the Copyright law of Luxembourg, therefore probably threshold of originality applies. Normal copyright rules apply
Malta No distinction mentioned in the Copyright law of Malta, therefore probably threshold of originality applies. Normal copyright rules apply
Netherlands No distinction mentioned in the Copyright law of the Netherlands (English translation from justitie.nl), therefore probably threshold of originality applies. Normal copyright rules apply
Poland No special provision for "simple photographs" mentioned in the Copyright law of Poland, therefore probably threshold of originality applies. Normal copyright rules apply
Portugal A "photographic work" must show an "artistic expression of the author". Photos of documents are not "works". Movie stills are photographic works.§164 The precise criteria are unknown. Since no explicit mention is made of "simple photographs", is it to be assumed that the threshold of originality applies? Normal copyright rules apply
Slovakia No special provision for "simple photographs" mentioned in the Copyright law of Slovakia, therefore probably threshold of originality applies. Normal copyright rules apply
Slovenia No special provision for "simple photographs" mentioned in the Copyright law of Slovenia, therefore probably threshold of originality applies. Normal copyright rules apply
Spain Criteria not mentioned, threshold of originality? Applies to works of EU nationals, residents of the EU, or works first published in the EU.art. 162 25y since creation art. 128
Sweden See {{PD-Sweden}} and Category:PD Sweden. Criteria not defined by the law but supposed to be threshold of originality. At least news photos, where the photographer has not had an opportunity to preparatory work, ordinary amateur images and ordinary portrait photos are supposed not to pass the threshold. Applies to works of Swedes, residents of Sweden, or works first published in Sweden.§61. Before 1994 the criteria was "of artistic or scientific value" (1960:730, 15 §) 50y since creation §49a
United Kingdom No distinction made in law, photographs generally are "artistic works" irrespective of their artistic merit. UK Copyright Act, §4 Normal copyright rules apply
Other countries
Australia No distinction made in the Australian Copyright Act 1968, photographs generally are "artistic works" irrespective of their artistic merit. Normal copyright rules apply
Egypt See {{PD Egypt}}. Photographs which "are not of creative character and merely consist of a mechanical reproduction of scenes." 15 years from publication
(prior to 1987 due to repeal of this provision in 2002)
Japan Apparently no distinction made in law. threshold of originality? Japanese coypright law Normal copyright rules apply
Liechtenstein No distinction mentioned in the Copyright law of Liechtenstein, therefore probably threshold of originality applies. Normal copyright rules apply
Norway See {{PD-Norway50}} and Category:PD Norway. Criteria unknown. Applies to photos from EEA nationals and residents. §58 15y p.m.a. or 50y since creation, whichever is longer. §43
Paraguay See Copyright law of Paraguay of 1998, article 135. Also applies to earlier photos per article 181. Criteria unknown → threshold of originality. 50 years since January 1 following the creation of the photo
Peru See Copyright Law - Legislative Decree No. 822 of April 23, 1996, article 144. Criteria unknown → threshold of originality. 70 years since January 1 following the creation of the photo
Switzerland See {{PD-Switzerland-photo}} and Category:PD Switzerland (Individuality). No distinction; if sufficiently original, a photo is a "work". If it does not pass the threshold of originality, the photo is not copyrightable. Normal copyright rules apply
Turkey No distinction mentioned in the law. Article 2(3) explicitly declares "technical and scientific photographs without aesthetic merit" to be "works". Assume all photos are "works" in Turkey.[14] 70 years since publication (article 29)[15]
U.S. No distinction made in U.S. copyright law. Threshold of originality applies, and is low. Normal copyright rules apply

Gallery[edit]

Finland[edit]

simple photos

Switzerland[edit]

simple photos