Food & Culture

It's Illegal to Take a Photo of the Eiffel Tower Illuminated at Night

It's a no-brainer to swing by the Eiffel Tower during a Parisian vacation. But it's weirdly a no-no to snap a photo of the famous structure while it's illuminated at night. More than just some cultural faux pas, the act is illegal. We know, we're weeping for your Instagram account too.

I'm a Photographer, Dottie, a Rebel

If you're visiting France, make sure to grab your Eiffel Tower selfie before sunset. The website for the Société d'Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel (the company that owns and operates the tower) says, "The views from the Eiffel Tower are rights-free. Permission and rights must be obtained from the Société d'Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel for the publication of photographs of the illuminated Eiffel Tower." So, daytime Tower is in the public domain, but nighttime Tower is not. Well, technically the Tower itself, constructed in 1889, is always rights-free. The problem lies in its illumination.

The building's light show, which was added in 1985, is technically owned by the light-show artist. Therefore, nighttime photos of the Tower are a violation of the artist's copyright under French law. As reported by Snopes, the EU's 2001 Copyright Directive, Article 5, dictates that photographs of architectural works in public spaces can be taken free of charge. Thus, taking pictures of public buildings is permissible, and those photographs can be published or distributed without prior permission in most European countries. This EU directive is optional, however, and France opted out of including it in their national laws.


The Société d'Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel considers the illumination to be an artistic work that is separate from the tower itself. If there were a way to photograph the Tower at night without the lighting, you'd be golden. But certainly not every tourist is aware of this obscure, urban-legend-sounding law.

What would happen if you did snap a photo? Well, you didn't hear it from us, but probably nothing. Having a copyright is a whole lot different from enforcing said copyright. Apparently, no one has ever been taken to court over their images of the Tower or the light show at night. Your killer #EiffelTower Instagram is probably safe ... for now. Just don't go pointing fingers if you get busted.

Want more about this world-famous landmark? Get the audiobook of "Eiffel's Tower: And the World's Fair Where Buffalo Bill Beguiled Paris" by Jill Jonnes free with a trial of Audible!

Why Photos of the Eiffel Tower at Night are Illegal

Written by Joanie Faletto December 4, 2017

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