Google Street View in Paris runs up against French image rights laws in the effort to capture Paris streets for Google Maps
In Paris, it’s Spring, which means the people are out in the cafes, kissing on street corners… and being photographed and broadcast all over the Internet by Google. The Google Street View mapping service has black Opels circulating around the capital of France taking photos to map all the streets of Paris from ground level. The results are impressive; put in a street address and it’s jut like you are there. However, anyone who actually IS there also turns up in the photo. With so many Parisians out in the good weather, that means many potential unintended celebrities on Google Maps.
Similar vehicles to those in Paris, some bearing the Google Street View logo (while others are travelling incognito, unmarked) , have been spotted in other European cities in recent weeks, indicating that Google is gathering data on a massive scale in preparation for the launch of the Google Street View in Europe.
In France, the photography of Google Street View in Paris poses a particular problem, because strict French laws prohibit using the image of a person without his or her consent. This was recently seen in the suit brought by President of France Nicolas Sarkozy and his then-fiance and now-wife Carla Bruni, against the airline Ryanair, for the satirical newpaper advertisement Ryanair ran showing a photograph of the happy couple. (The suit was settled with a payment by Ryanair to a charity.) The French law means that Google running Google Street View photos that include French people could open them to lawsuits from those people unless Google obtains their consent. Since thousands of people could potentially appear in the Google Street View Paris photos, this could be a legal nightmare for Google, and a potential cash cow for opportunistic Parisians caught by Google’s candid camera. A few of these suits have already been borught; Google has withdrawn the offending photos rather than pay the litigants.
Among the technical solutions Google is considering are blurring faces in images, which would require an enormous amount of Photoshop-style manpower, or only publishing unidentifiable low-resolution images, which would make Google Street View in France much less attractive, and less useful.
The law concerning image rights in France was obviously put in place before the Internet made life in France and elsewhere so much more complicated. How the use of Google’s photos showing people will play out is still to be seen. Certainly, many people in France may not care or actually enjoy seeing themselves or someone they know on Google Street View, the French version of Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame. But woe to the philandering husbands of Paris or the worker who has called in sick when the images of them smooching on a bench or basking–in perfect health– in a cafe appear for the world, their wives and their bosses to see. In Paris, this sort of threat to privacy may be closer to the hearts of the people than any French law.