One of the life’s certainties is that copyright maximalism will continue to encourage absurd rulings by complaisant courts. Here’s a rather spectacular case from Germany. It involves a “photo wallpaper”. For those of you who – like me – aren’t quite sure what that means, it is the name given to wallpapers that are essentially huge, blown-up images based on photographs. In this particular instance, photo wallpaper was used to decorate a holiday flat. As is normal for such situations, the owner took pictures to entice people to rent the property, including images of the room with the photo wallpaper, which was clearly visible in the online marketing materials. Here’s how things went as a result, reported by Pinsent Masons:
The flat owner had purchased the wallpaper in 2013 at a price of €13.50. In 2020, the flat owner received a cease-and-desist letter: the photographer, who held the copyright to the tulip photos used for the wallpaper, considered that his rights to the images had been infringed and demanded the flat owner to stop reproducing the photographs on the internet. The owner of the holiday flat refused to sign the cease-and-desist declaration and the case went to court.
The photographer explained that he had given permission for his photos – of tulips, apparently – to be used for a wallpaper. But he had only given permission for the use of the photo as wallpaper, and claimed that further permission to display his image was required if a photo of it were put online. Unfortunately the Cologne Regional Court agreed with this interpretation. It’s a ruling that could have important ramifications for anyone taking pictures of furnished rooms, as the Pinsent Masons post explains:
the ruling is not only relevant in relation to photo wallpapers, but could also be extended to other furnishing items that create an atmosphere, such as pictures, sculptures or designer furniture.
This case is yet another example of copyright gone mad, with additional authorisation being required for perfectly normal and harmless activities that no rational person would regard as requiring permission or payment.
Featured image created with Stable Diffusion.