Photographs in museums : it is forbidden to forbid

22/3/11 – Museums – Photography rules – We have already denounced the rule forbidding visitors to take photographs which museums have imposed or try to do so, on several occasions. We had written that in our opinion these measures were illegal since there is nothing in French law prohibiting anyone from taking a picture of works belonging to public heritage and produced by artists who have entered the public domain.

An article by a lawyer, Anne-Laure Stérin, published on the site of the Association des professionnels de l’information et de la documentation [1], confirms this point by point. Photographs cannot be forbidden in a museum, whether based on the principle of royalties – in fact the same applies to artists not yet in the public domain as long as the photographs are for private use – and the notion of ownership rights or even the idea of public domain. In one word, it is forbidden to forbid visitors from taking photographs in a museum. We would add also that although amateur photographers should not be allowed to use a flash this is not because it might damage the objects in any way, at least in the case of a painting. All of the conservation specialists we consulted were adamant : a flash cannot damage a painting (as opposed to drawings and pastels). However, it constitutes a nuisance for other visitors and is above all useless : it is reflected in the painting and digital cameras are now sensitive enough to bypass the practice.

Evidently, the Minister of Culture seems unfamiliar with the law as he responded to the parliamentary deputy Patrick Baudouin’s question on the subject– after taking eight months to think about it…- that it was the individual establishment’s right to judge if it wanted to forbid photographs or not and that a consultation of databases available on Internet was more than enough. The Minister is mistaken : everyone has the right to take photographs in a museum.

Didier Rykner, mardi 22 mars 2011


[1] We found it thanks to the website Louvre pour tous.

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