Originally erected by Gustave Eiffel to commemorate the centennial of the French Revolution in 1889, this epic monument consistently attracts more than 6.9 million visitors from across the globe who come to see the tower and take photos each year. You’ll find its image in countless guidebooks, online articles and breathtaking Instagram snaps. However, what you probably don’t realise is that you have almost never seen photos or videos of the Eiffel Tower taken at night, because it’s technically illegal.
This ban comes down to French copyright law, which gives the original creator of an object exclusive rights to its sale and distribution, not just for as long as they live, but for a hefty number of years afterwards, too. As far as copyright is concerned, buildings are classified with the same rigour as the artistic works that you would find in a museum.
In the European Union, the copyright law holds for 70 years after the creator has passed away. Some countries are more lenient, such as Pakistan, in which the copyright law holds for 50 years; in other places it’s longer – for example, 95 years in Jamaica.
As far as the Eiffel Tower is concerned, it was Gustave Eiffel who held the copyright for the tower, and he died in 1923, meaning that the copyright ran out 70 years later, in 1993. At this point the likeness and design of the tower were allowed to enter the public domain.
However, there is a further complication. The lights on the Eiffel Tower were installed only in 1985, by Pierre Bideau, meaning that any photo or video that shows the monument at a time when the lights are visible (that is, at night) is a violation of copyright law.
Anything shared on social media platforms is considered to be distribution, but since 2016 tourists have been allowed to take photos and videos of copyrighted buildings for personal use, as long as there is no commercial benefit attached.