Whose Landscape Is This?

by

Christophe Van Eecke 

Two years ago,
landscape was briefly in the news when the European Parliament voted on a
report on copyright rules drafted by Julia Reda, of the
German Pirate Party. The issue that caused controversy was the so-called Freedom
of Panorama. This is the principle that anyone can take photographs of the
public space because the view (the panorama) of the public realm is public
property. Reda argued that it was important to maintain this freedom, but a
Liberal member of the Parliament, Jean-Marie Cavada, introduced an amendment
stating that anyone who would derive any kind of commercial gain from such a
photograph would have to pay copyright fees to the copyright holder of all “works”
that appear in the image.

image

The amendment
triggered a petition from concerned European citizens. Such regulations would
make it very difficult, for example, to make a film in the public realm: in
theory, one would have to track down the copyright holders (such as the
architects, if still living) of any building that appears in the image. The
amendment speaks of “works” in the public realm, but, obviously, every building is a “work” from the
perspective of the architect who designed it, and not just famous landmarks.
Even bridges on highways are referred to as “works of art” in official
bureaucracy. Especially for independent, low-budget, or no-budget film-making
the logistics and financial implications of such a measure could easily become
prohibitive.

In the end, the
amendment did not make it and the Freedom of Panorama remained safe. But there
is no guarantee that it will not be assailed again in the future. It was
therefore a clear reminder of the way in which our entire world, including the
very living space we share with each other, is constantly encroached upon by
those who would commodify it as a source of revenue. In the Freedom of Panorama
case, the intrinsically laudable intention of safeguarding the copyrights of
creative artists had transmogrified into corporate copyright run
amok
.

The whole affair
made me think about the limited control we have over our world, and how easy it
is to lose the world to corporate capitalism. What would such a copyright rule
do to our relationship with the world? I could imagine people avoiding the
corporate invasion by retreating into private worlds (an evasion the great
Walter Pater would surely bless from beyond the grave). With recent evolutions
in virtual reality and digital imagery we have already gone a long distance
towards realising such worlds. We are already increasingly disappearing into
worlds that are artificially developed and completely parallel to the real
world. On a less technically sophisticated level, for low-budget film-makers such
a flight into fantasy could also mean a return to the early film practice,
derived from theatre, of working with painted backdrops of invented or
fantastical landscapes. Méliès would suddenly be very topical again!

If the real
world is increasingly owned, copyrighted, or branded, the only freedom left us
is the freedom of the mind, the internal space of imagining. But if we all flee
into imaginary worlds and come together in that realm of fantasy, the corporate
capitalists may one day find that they have bought a brave new world that has
nil people in it.

Now, would that
not be a wonderful revenge of fantasy upon capital?

© Image: Christophe Van Eecke

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