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Eiffel Tower: Repossessed

You need look no further than Mickey Mouse in the US, or Elvis in the UK, to understand how copyright, for better or worst, affects the marketplace. But while Disney resorted to legal means to get more life out Mickey, those that oversee the Eiffel Tower came up with something far more clever.

The Eiffel Tower’s likeness had long since been part of the public domain, when in 2003, it was abruptly repossessed by the city of Paris. That’s the year that the SNTE, the company charged with maintaining the tower, adorned it with a distinctive lighting display, copyrighted the design, and in one feel swoop, reclaimed the nighttime image and likeness of the most popular monument on earth. In short: they changed the actual likeness of the tower, and then copyrighted that.

As a result, it’s no longer legal to publish current photographs of the Eiffel Tower at night without permission. Technically, this applies even to amateurs. When I spoke to the Director of Documentation for SNTE, Stéphane Dieu, via phone last week, he assured me that SNTE wasn’t interested in prohibiting the publication of amateur photography on personal Web sites. “It is really just a way to manage commercial use of the image, so that it isn’t used in ways we don’t approve,” said Mr. Dieu.

So while publishing nighttime photos of the Eiffel Tower may now be illegal, it isn’t all bad news for tourists; SNTE profits go back to the city of Paris, making it, hopefully, and even nicer place to visit.FCS