Tuesday, September 7, 2010

IFA Special - How to finally legalize Google Street View in Germany

Today, Tuesday Sep.7th is Google day at the IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin. Eric Schmidt is giving his keynote speech as he is on a "Goodwill tour" to Germany and France.
IFA icon Funkturm Berlin in 50 year anniversary outfit

 Germany the country of "Street View - Opponents" has seen an almost hysteric discussion in the media and caused Google to respond with double page Ads in the leading "Spiegel" News magazine.
It all didn´t help very much though - Germans are overly suspicious and reluctant to allow street view photos to go online.
The current "opt-out" compromise is half hearted and does not apply existing legislation literally.

This current legislation knows something called "Panoramafreiheit" which means that anything can be photographed (and such photos be used commercially) what can be seen from public ground with normal eyes and no additional equipment used.

Any regular photographer can be sued if he uses a ladder to photograph the house or garden at the other side of the street. Likewise it is not legal to take pictures from an apartment at the opposite side.
Explicitly an "elevated standpoint" does render the Panoramafreiheit invalid.

Such photos - and more so the commercial use of those - do require a property release contract. This is mandatory and not optional.

If Google is treated like anybody else would be, all those Google Street view pictures are simply illegal - and opt out is not what the law means. Opt in - Home owners would have to actively allow these photos in for each and every property would be according to existing regulation.

Here my solution:
Instead of a "lex Google" (specific exceptions just for Google), I strongly plead for a more relaxed handling of the issue. Google is not evil and Street view is useful service that does not aim to inflict with our privacy.
The problem is that these car mounted cameras are at 2,90m height which means that they can peek over fences and they do constitute  what is meant with "additional equipment" in the law.
So the solution is simply to extend "Panoramafreiheit" paragraph and interpretation  to ... everything that can be seen from public ground including elevated standpoints of up to 3m.

This would be it. Easy. Now everything is in order again. Google Street View is complete legal - covered by German Panoramafreiheit - of course, Faces and Car registrations must be blurred (like before).
With this adaption to general legislation every photographer could rightfully claim the same rights as Google. Which means taking photos by means of using ladders is now allowed - also shooting from the first floor of opposite appartements - 3 Meters - this would be the guiding threshold.

And if this is not going to happen, the only consequent alternative would be for Google to repeat shooting German streets with modified cars: Camera mounts not higher than 1,80m. This would be covered by Panoramafreiheit as it is.

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