Why no photography in cultural/historical sites?

On my two-month tour of Spain and Portugal, I’ve been repeatedly puzzled by many cultural/historical sites’ insistence that photography is not allowed. (The rule is fairly unenforced in many sites, e.g. the Cathedral of Leon, where the guide even told us that they don’t especially care, but other places, such as the Cathedral of Teruel, they really come down on you.)

I know that flash photography can damage works of art, besides being distracting to other people who are engrossed in culture/religious observance, etc. Often, non-flash photography is permitted – for example, in the Prado.

I could also understand prohibiting photography in modern art museums, for example, where the work might still be under copyright.

But I don’t understand what good reason there would be to ban flashless photography in other circumstances. I can’t see what it would hurt, besides maybe their postcard sales – is this really the only reason?

At any rate, if there really is a good reason, why don’t all such sites prohibit photography?

(While we’re on the latter subject, I can’t remember where but I remember one museum/church/something claimed that it had copyright on all images taken of the building or the (pre-copyright) works exposed therein. Can you really claim copyright on images of an object just because you happen to own it?)

I was going to ask this myself. When in Spain and Portugal last year I also went to Gibraltar and visited the caves inside the rock. Although photos were ok, there were signs saying that was only for personal use as the caves are copyright/trademark protected. WTF?? Does Prudential Insurance pay a fee?

I have wondered if in some cases it’s the flash photography they’re worried about, but they find it much easier to just say “no photography” than to try to deal with all the people who would accidentally take flash pictures, having no clue how to not use the flash on their cameras.

Sometimes I think they ban photography altogether because they really, really don’t want flash photography. There are a lot of people who don’t know how to use their cameras and don’t turn the flash off. It also makes it easier to enforce the rules on the guards, because any camera is a bad camera.

An interesting thing I’ve only seen in Greece was that many of the sights banned photos of people. No posing in front of the monuments at all, and the guards actually enforced it. This suggests that maybe other places don’t want posing either and stop it by banning photos altogether. Often, if you’re standing in front of something to get a photo, you are standing in the way of other people’s views.

A third possibility is a bit idealistic. If you can take photos, most tourists spend their time doing that, looking at the sight through a camera lens. They look at things hwne they get home. Ban photos, and you actually have to see what you’re visiting.

It could be that they don’t want people taking picture because they make some of their money from selling pictures of the site, or licensing others to sell pictures. If people can take their own pictures, there is less of a market for that stuff.

Britain’s National Trust forbids indoor photography (and using camera phones) in all National Trust properties. When the ban was first put in place, it was reported that one reason for it was that art and antiquities thieves were posing as snap-happy tourists to case the properties. Photos of the house contents could be shown to knowledgeable persons who could point out what was most worth stealing, and other pictures could reveal the house layout and any visible security measures. Plenty of churches have relics, altar furnishings etc. that are well worth stealing.

As for claiming copyright on images of something simply because you own it–this must be legal, because every art museum on earth seems to do it. Museums that do allow photography usually forbid photographing special exhibits, because these are full of loaned items the museum doesn’t have copyright on. I remember visiting Britain’s National Army Museum and seeing a sign next to one painting warning it could not be photographed because it was on loan from the Royal Collection.

I’ve been told so. That if you allow photography without a flash, the majority of people will actually take pictures with a flash. Either deliberatly, either by mistake, or plainly because they didn’t notice the “no flash” sign, see other people taking pictures and so do the same, with a flash.

Actually, in the United States at least, fraudulently claiming copyright on a work is illegal.

From US Title 17:

I think this is correct.

A couple of years ago I visited Peterborough Cathedral in the UK. I was only allowed to take pictures inside the cathedral after paying a fee to do so. Since entry to the cathedral is free I think they rely on selling postcards and picture books to raise money.

Owning something absolutely does not give you copyrights on it. There are no copyrights on naturally occurring caves. They do not have copyrights on, say, 15th century paintings. The places claiming to do so are either lying or ignorant of the law. It’s actually quite common though. Like the British Library claims to own copyright on all sorts of 19th century prints just because they happen to have a copy of one of the originals. Of course they try to sell prints and publishing rights to them. It’s all commerce.

As far as it being illegal to falsely claim to have a copyright on something, it’s a) knowingly (which most of these people could probably dodge convincingly), b) someone has to complain and be willing to try to stop them, and c) never actually been enforced ever as far as I know. A law without enforcement might as well not be a law.

I don’t think these sites are actually claiming copyright on the images or on photographs of items other than images. However, they have the right to control who photographs their property, so the entity controlling the site ends up with the copyright on many of the images. I believe in large part the contol of photography is to ensure that some revenue from photography of the site returns to the institution.

I can think of a couple of other reasons for controlling photography. First, it may be an effort to maintain the public image of the site by ensuring a certain quality level in the photographs. I believe that sometimes permission to photograph in places like this is conditioned on your not being allowed to publish your photos commercially.

Second, I could see prohibiting even nonflash photography as a part of maintaining the dignity of the site, e.g., in the case of a place of worship. People standing around in odd places and staring through cameras to frame shots doesn’t always contribute to a reverent atmosphere. Not everyone has the good taste to refrain from assembling a dozen people for a group shot with the tombs of the two lovers in the Cathedral at Teruel, for example.

[tiniest of nitpicks]
Although I agree with your point about maintaining dignity, the mausoleum of The Lovers of Teruel is in a chapel adjacent to the church of San Pedro, not in the Cathedral .
[/tiniest of nitpicks]

Just for a couple of data points, when I was in Florence, Italy earlier this year I asked at one museum about flash vs. non-flash photography. They said that at one point they allowed non-flash photography but that they had so many instances of people using flash anyway (and claiming that they hadn’t or that they couldn’t turn their flash off) that they wound up prohibiting it completely

At the Academia, where the statue of David is housed, they said photography was prohibited because the group that paid for the recent restoration of the statue (which they said was a Japanese television network?) did so on the condition that they have exclusive photo and video reproduction rights for some length of time. Allowing photography would violate their agreement. (They were serious there too; if you walked in carrying a camera, even if it was off, they put it in a sealed plastic bag and you weren’t allowed to take it out until you left! They did let me just leave mine in its case.)

Which is scandalously overpriced.

Another consideration (probably secondary to the ‘flash photography’ and ‘protecting revenue streams’ ones) would be that photographing tourists in spaces smaller than, say, a town square can be a PITA and an obstruction:

  • instead of a few seconds of setting their camera’s settings, finding the right framing, taking the photograph, then walking on they make a minutes-long production of it (it’s especially excruciating when they make others of their party pose in the foreground). If professional photographers and professional models photographed/posed at that speed they’d starve. During that time they deny anyone else with a modicum of consideration for others the use of their picture’s field.

  • often they back up to a wall, denying others who don’t want to walk into their picture the opportunity to walk by behind them.

Already disputed in previous posts, but regarding paintings the landmark case is Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corp. (1999), which decided that public domain works like old oil paintings are…public domain, and the owner of a work cannot validly assert copyright on copies of a public domain piece in their collection (note that is case is specifically addressed two-dimensional works). The ruling. Obviously, controlling physical access to a work is well within the rights of the owner/holder of the artwork.

When I was in Mexico, in the city of Santiago de Querétaro allowed photography in most of its museums as long as you didn’t have flash going off. I remember they asked me if I did, and I said no, and they let it go. So, I was able to get pictures of a lot of cool paintings and sculptures.

However, in the Museum on the Cerro de Campanas, they didn’t allow cameras at all, and put them into plastic bags which they held at the front. They gave us a ticket to get them back later. I was worried enough something might happen that I took the memory chip out and kept it with me until I got my camera back. I think part of the reason was that they didn’t want certain culturally senstive things photgraphed (I don’t know why as it was mostly an exhibit on the history, and didn’t have lots of artefacts). But part of it I think may be because they didn’t want possible flashes going off and ruining the experience for others (it was a pretty cool museum none the less).

Interesting, it was the same case when I visited the Sistine chapel in 2001. Nippon TV funded the restoration in exchange for complete media rights for three years. But that period has lapsed, so does anyone know whether they allow photography now?