Why It’s Illegal To Take Pictures of the Eiffel Tower at Night

Catch a view of the Eiffel Tower from the Bir-Hakeim Bridge in Paris
Catch a view of the Eiffel Tower from the Bir-Hakeim Bridge in Paris | © A. Astes / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Jade Cuttle
1 July 2019

The Eiffel Tower is so famous that it has become not only a symbol of Paris but the whole of France. It never fails to impress, especially when its 20,000 light bulbs are illuminated. But did you know that it is actually illegal to take pictures of the tower at night?

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 media outlets rarely release photos of the tower at night.

Cityscape view of Paris | © RossHelen editorial / Alamy Stock Photo

The lights on the Eiffel Tower complicate the copyright

The ban comes down to French copyright law, which gives the original creator of an object exclusive rights to its sale and distribution. 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.

Gustave Eiffel 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, hence why you can find a replica of the Eiffel Tower, built in 1999, in Las Vegas.

However, the lights on the Eiffel Tower were installed 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.

There’s no general freedom of panorama in France, and so a photo of the illuminated Eiffel Tower can be published only with permission. The Louvre’s pyramid in Paris is protected under the same laws.

Eiffel Tower viewed from a nearby neighbourhood. | © Roland Nagy / Alamy Stock Photo

What is freedom of panorama?

Freedom of panorama allows photographers to capture buildings, artworks, sculptures, paintings or monuments in public spaces, even when they are still under copyright. Since 7 October 2016, limited freedom of panorama for works of architecture and sculpture has been put in place in France.

French law now authorises “reproductions and representations of works of architecture and sculpture, placed permanently in public places (voie publique), and created by natural persons, with the exception of any usage of a commercial character”.

This law means that tourists are allowed to take photos and videos of copyrighted buildings for personal use, as long as there is no commercial benefit attached.

Architecture and landmarks of Paris, France. | © Anna Berkut / Alamy Stock Photo

What are the implications of the rule?

The rule has the most impact on professional photographers hoping to sell pictures of the landmark, but the law also applies to any traveller and their innocent holiday snaps. Anything shared on social media platforms is still considered to be distribution.

If you take pictures of French buildings or public art and they become available in France, for example, after uploading them to social media or a blog, then a French court could claim jurisdiction. In theory, people who violate this law can face a fine.

This is even the case if you are a resident in a country, such as the UK, where the freedom of panorama applies – it is still possible to be sued in the UK under French law.

Place de la Concorde and Eiffel Tower in Paris | © nik wheeler / Alamy Stock Photo

Other landmarks in Europe are under similar laws

The protection of the architectural design of buildings is a growing trend, with other major landmarks in Europe under similar laws. In neighbouring Belgium, the Atomium sculpture, an iconic Brussels landmark, is fiercely protected by copyright.

In Copenhagen, permission is needed to publish pictures of the famous Little Mermaid statue, while in Strasbourg, the European Parliament is under protection. There are also limited permissions surrounding the 2,000-year-old Colosseum in Rome.

The situation varies significantly across the EU. While some countries have different rules according to the artistic medium, other countries, such as Greece and Italy, have no freedom of panorama at all.

The famous landmark of Paris, Eiffel Tower, as seen behind some statues of Palais de Chaillot | © Georgios Alexandris / Alamy Stock Photo