Please note that the information on this website regarding copyright and other legal issues must not be regarded as authoritative. It is written in general terms with a view to increasing general everyday understanding. However it is neither intended to provide authoritative advice nor to be used as guidance in specific cases. Anyone seeking authoritative advice regarding such matters, or anyone involved in a particular legal case, must seek the advice of a suitably qualified solicitor.
Taking a photograph of a work of art, such as a painting or sculpture, is likely to infringe copyright unless the copyright in the work has expired or the permission of the original artist has been obtained. However, while copyright laws may differ from country to country, many countries (including those within European Union and the Americas) are signatories of the 1886 Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works. Signatories to this convention agree to regard copyrighted materials produced in other countries in the same way as those originated by their own nationals.
For literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works, the UK's 1988 Copyright, Designs and Patents Act states that copyright has a duration of seventy years beyond the end of the calendar year of the death of the author, or longest surviving author. If the author is unknown, copyright extends for 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the work was created. If the work is made available to the public during that time, by exhibition, publication, performance etc, then the duration of the copyright is defined as seventy years from the end of the calendar year in which the work was first made publicly available.
Many artists may be unconcerned by such photographic violations of their copyright and might not have placed their work of art in a public place had they been concerned to protect it. However, some court cases have arisen from circumstances such as these. In Paris it is considered a breach of copyright to sell night- time photographs of the Eiffel Tower because the lighting is considered a work of art and is consequently protected by copyright.
Of course other countries may well have different laws, and those laws may also change over time. The worldwide situation may therefore be less than clear.