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Swedish Court Judgment Shrinks the Public Space

Pressmeddelande   •   Jul 11, 2017 08:20 CEST

A photo depicting a blacked out Poseidon, a work of public art in Gothenburg, Sweden. Photo: Mattias Blomgren, CC-BY-SA 3.0.

On 6 July, the Patent and Market Court of Sweden announced their judgment in the high profile lawsuit filed by Bildkonst Upphovsrätt i Sverige (BUS), a Swedish collection society for visual artists, against Wikimedia Sverige (Sweden). Unfortunately the court found in favor of BUS.

The problematic outcome of the ruling is that it prohibits online sharing of photos of works of art that are permanently located in public places, in parks and in the city, even though the works themselves are publically funded. BUS’ statement reads that “it is not illegal for individuals to take photos of art”, this is indeed true, however most people wish to make further use of photos taken, such as sharing them online.

  • The outcome is a tragedy, because it renders public art less accessible and less public. Our intention has always been to give public art the kind of visibility it deserves. It is remarkable how, in a digital age, sharing photos in digital media is not OK if there is a work of public art visible in that photo, says John Andersson, Executive Director of Wikimedia Sverige.

These discussions are taking place in many countries in Europe.

  • Freedom of Panorama is an important and current issue that is being discussed not only in Sweden, but in all of the European Union. It is crucial that we work hard simultaneously on national and European level to ensure that works of art in the public space remains public also when digitized, says Dimitar Parvanov Dimitrov, the Wikimedian in Brussels.

The court judgement is worrying as to how it will affect individuals and conversations between people. If you are in a public space taking photos, what are you allowed to do with them? How can you share them and your experiences? Is it alright to upload them to a personal blog? The court asserts that it is not, if there happen to be a work of public art visible in those photos.

  • Copyright is complex and largely incomprehensible. This ruling asserts that there is a difference in terms of user rights between digital and print media as photos of these works of art can for example be printed as postcards and used for commercial purposes. Digital non-profit projects however, such as the websites and Wikipedia, must pay for using the very same photos. In a society looking to fully enter a digital era, it is unreasonable to undermine the use of digital media in this way. The legislation clearly must be revised, says John Andersson.

BUS filed the lawsuit against Wikimedia Sverige in 2014 based, an open database hosted by Wikimedia Sverige that provides maps, descriptions, and photos of works of art that are permanently located in public places. BUS claimed that Wikimedia Sverige violated Swedish copyright law by publishing photographs of public art. In April 2016, the Supreme Court of Sweden ruled against Wikimedia Sverige in clarifying that Sweden’s freedom of panorama laws do not allow for digital sharing of photographs of artwork in public places. Yesterday, the Patent and Market Court followed suit with a similarly restrictive interpretation of copyright laws that limits sharing photographs of such public works, even when photographs of such works are already freely visible online. Wikimedia Sverige is obliged to pay fines and compensation of a total of about SEK 750,000 (around 89,000 USD).

  • We’re hoping to find support through a crowdfunding campaign to cover costs and advocate for changes to relevant Swedish and international legislation. We invite supporters to visit to donate. Simply add “BUS” in the comment section and all funds will be put towards this cause, says John Andersson.

More information:

De flesta känner till Wikipedia, det fria uppslagsverket som är en av de tio mest besökta webbplatserna. Wikipedia finns på 295 språk och har över 44 miljoner artiklar totalt (2017) och har skapats helt och hållet av uppslagsverkets användare.

Vad de flesta inte känner till är att Wikipedia är helt ideellt. Wikipedia drivs av den icke-kommersiella organisationen Wikimedia Foundation. Runt om i världen har det bildats stödföreningar för att hjälpa till att utbilda och upplysa människor på deras eget språk om Wikimedia Foundations olika projekt. Wikimedia Sverige arbetar i Sverige för att göra kunskap fritt tillgängligt för alla människor.