Tuscan town tries to copyright its landscapes


The township of San Quirico D’Orcia, in the heart of one of the most picturesque stretches of Tuscany, wants to copyright its views and landscapes. These are some of the most iconic views of this area (many of which appear in my book In Tuscany, with Frances Mayes).

Although it sounds ridiculous, you have to have sympathy with the events that brought about this extraordinary move….the place was tired of its image being exploited by commercial concerns like Monsanto, which used beautiful images of the area to promote its genetically modified crop seeds, and other promotional uses.

The move is not without precedent in our own country…the Pebble Beach Golf Course near Monterey, California has trademarked the Lone Pine tree, a beautiful tree out on a promontory that had been photographed (and published) by just about everybody. So take a picture of this tree and publish it, and you may hear from Pebble Beach’s lawyers.

There is some speculation that what the town wants to do is to trademark, not copyright, their views. Often, in Italy, the terms “copyright” and “trademark” are used interchangeably.

Whatever the term, it’s going to cast a pall on shooting in this beautiful area….sure glad I did it when I did.  Below is a translation of the article I found on the iStockPhoto forums….I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the translation, especially that last sentence, which from its  grammatical construction would seem to want to say that editorial use would not be punished (although the translation says just the opposite).

San d’Orcia Quirico put the copyright on itself. His celebrated glance, starting from the crown of cypress trees, now risen to an emblem of quiet rural absolute, can no longer be used to advertise mattresses and mineral industries, and even corporations that produce GMOs, as it happened in the past: who will film must request permission 15 days in advance and, if this is granted, will be in place, however, the obligation to “acknowledge the source” of beauty that will be put on display, San Qurico same. 

 The city council of the town of Siena, Unesco World Heritage, with the valley of which has been, since 2004, has approved the rules last week, everything is already operational. The 2,500 inhabitants of the village located on the Via Cassia, between Pienza, Montalcino and Monte Amiata, were sad to see the exploitation of images of their carpet birthplace: the church of Vilatela, the hill of Podere Belvedere and above the cypress trees. “We saw them everywhere – says the Head of Tourism, Christian Pilgrims – Posteitaliane by a manufacturer of mattresses, a well-known brand of mineral water that Umbria has built over the whole packaging is in German hotels that advertised them as the ‘view’ hotel …”. 

The most prominent case in 2007, when Monsanto, the multinational GM seed, used the iconic vision, aware of its potential evocative of the bucolic world perfect, that the production of GM crops was far from being able to represent. The administration sent a letter of formal notice to the company, which stopped using the image. But this was the straw breaks the camel’s capable of and now, after 4 years and for a change of leadership of the country (now there’s the PD) has reached the decision that puts an end to the exploitation of “deception” of the natural and architectural beauty San Quirico. 

“This is not want to penalize anyone – says councilor for productive activities Mauro Taddei, promoter of the initiative – there is only the desire to protect the territory from the unfair use, as sometimes happened, seeing at last recognized the principle of reciprocity”. 

As mentioned, the permission for commercial or advertising purposes must be requested at least 15 days before the shooting and the municipal manager of the service, then notify in writing the acceptance or not. Image advertising must also be marked “Recovery or photograph taken in San Quirico d’Orcia”. When shooting photos or unauthorized or improper use, administrative penalties in addition to compensation for any damage caused. 

But what will happen to the tourists who get to take pictures, maybe with a tripod? “They can rest assured, there will be no ‘censorship’,” reassures Pilgrims, “which prohibits any alert, or trade unions about what you are photographing or filming, any counter-measures will be taken back.” And even the exploitation of professional beauties of the village “positive” (architectural photography, travel, which obviously must cite the source), will be penalized in any way by the new regulation. 

Here’s the original article in Italian

If you read Italian, perhaps you can check the last graph and get back to us!


This Post Has 13 Comments

  1. This is fascinating Bob! I never knew the Pebble Beach tree was trademarked. It makes me wonder what else across the world is? This part of Italy sure is beautiful! Thanks for finding and sharing with our readers.

    1. I think the night lighting at the Eiffel Tower is. Not the tower itself: just the lighting. During the day it’s not an issue.

      1. I’ve heard the same thing, that the lighting on it was done by an artist who reserved the IP rights to it.

  2. “neanche” in the final sentence asserts the negative: it’s something more literally like “And *not* even…”

    1. Surfaces: Yes that makes sense….so it sounds like editorial travel photography, for instance, that promotes the area, might be exempt. But still….

  3. I tried to translate the last paragraph. The actual meaning is slightly different from your translation.
    “But what will happen to tourists who get to take pictures, maybe with a tripod? “The can be assured that there will be no “preventive censorship” – reassures Pellegrini – no cop will forbid to take photos neither will even ask for what one’s photographing or filming.”. And even the professional use of the “positive” beauties of the village (architectural photography, travel photography that of course have to cite the source) will be in any way harmed by the new regulation”



    1. Grazie Giuseppe!

  4. In my opinion the place the photo was taken should generally be mentioned. The copyright for the photo itself should be with the photographer as there is artistry involved, maybe to the extend the subject is harder to recognize (or see Bob’s photos for “Tuscany”:clearly not your usual photos). A landscape should not be copyrighted:what if every city/county/province/country did this? Apart from the fact landscapes change continuously. However one can protest use of a landscape/landmark for a product ad or label the council does not agree with i.e Monsanto or a product from a different location all together. An artistic photo, even for a contest or book/ publication should be allowed.

  5. I and a high school student visited a county park on the north side of Cincinnati, Sharon Woods. Within the park, there is a historical site called Sharon Woods Village.
    They charge each photographer $200 a day to photograph the restored buildings, no matter their age or experience. I was told the buildings were “copyrighted”.
    Needless to say we left. I wonder if the same applies to painting a scene!?

  6. This is troubling. Companies are patenting everything (Amazon has patented one-click ordering—absurd!) and now cities want to copyright hills? And the lights on the Eiffel Tower are copyrighted? I’ve got a night photo of it on my home page. I guess I should expect a summons any day now. I was recently photographing the buildings at the Orange County (California) Performing Arts Center and was chased away by a security guard. That’s a little more understandable as the buildings were designed by a person. Even so, it’s a public place. Should the Empire State Building be copyrighted? The Chrysler Building?

  7. Hi Bob,
    This will become a trend to all popular landmark and historical site around the world. The use of unlicensed images as content in advertising material sometimes distorted the social image of that location or venue. The only thing a local government can do is to prohibit all photography to minimize any arguement in a later date!
    All photographers suffer from this act especially those who has nothing to do in the commercial world. It also hurts many fine art photographers since the final images they have made may not be necessary of the orginal look. Now they do not even have a chance to setup their camera!
    It will be very sad to see one day everyone file a copyrights protection order over their images and street photography will become illegal in the near future!

  8. The empire state bldg, Chrysler bldg, were also ‘designed by a person.’ The Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco is copyrighted, you can only include it as a part of a scene but not feature is as the subject in a commerical shoot without permission. Ah yes, it’s already upon us…

  9. it seems i remember at one time that those 3-4 iconic houses sitting in a row just below a park in san francisco (sorry i cant be more specific) were not letting people shoot them, even from the park. sure, it was private property, but this thing in tuscany is ridiculous. pictures of tuscany build it’s tourism value

    Dallas Photographer Les Wollam

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