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France: Law on artistic freedom adopted by First House of French Parliament

5 October 2015

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On 29 September 2015, the First House of the French Parliament – Assemblée Nationale – adopted a new law on artistic freedom, architecture and heritage, which is now to be presented to the Senate. The law is to protect the principle of artistic freedom and freedom of dissemination.
Laurence Cuny, who helped shape the law through his work with The Observatory for the Protection of Artistic Freedom, is enthusiastic about this legal recognition: “We think that this will give political authorities and judges clear guidelines and ensure that artistic creation can continue to be seen by the widest audience,” she writes in this background article.


By Laurence Cuny, The Observatory for the Protection of Artistic Freedom


On 28 September 2015, the First House of the French Parliament – Assemblée Nationale – started debating a law on artistic freedom, architecture and heritage.

Article 1 of this new law states that artistic creation is free – ‘La création artistique est libre’.

The Observatory for the Protection of Artistic Freedom has been following this law since the project was presented earlier this year. This legal recognition, corollary to freedom of expression, was deemed essential at a time when the environment of artistic creation has seen profound changes, resulting in numerous situations where artistic freedom, the artistic choices of creators and, more generally, citizens’ relation to culture is being questioned.

Indeed recent cases such as the vandalism against Anish Kapoor’s work in Versailles or Paul McCarthy’s tree in Paris, among others, have shown an absolute need for a clear legislation in France to protect artistic freedom as it already exists in Germany, Italy or Spain.

While protecting the principle of artistic freedom is a great step, the Observatory has constantly drawn the attention of the Government to the fact that freedom to create alone is not a guarantee. In all cases it has mediated in recent times, it was freedom to disseminate artistic productions that found obstacles from mayors and other political authorities, art centres and civil society organisations in the form of cancellation, closure or vandalism.

Creation can be free but it’s only when it’s made public that it becomes subject to attack and arbitrary censorship. Problems never arise when art works remain in the drawers of their authors.

This is the reason why we submitted an amendment to the draft law to include freedom of dissemination in Article 1. We also called upon the Special Rapporteur as her 2012 report on artistic freedom recalls the importance of the guarantee of freedom of dissemination.

We firmly believe that in order to protect those who interpret, exhibit or distribute art works, the law must protect not only creation itself, but also the dissemination of art works and publications.

Our plea was heard as we expressed our doubts about the effectiveness of Article 1.

In a response to our amendment the Government strongly affirmed that Article 1 as it is encompasses freedom of dissemination and programming as a necessary corollary to freedom of artistic creation. Besides, it introduced insession a last minute amendment (Amendment 462) to Article 2. Article 2 sets outs the objectives of the State’s policy on artistic freedom at national and local levels. It now includes “guarantee freedom of artistic dissemination” as one of its objectives.

As a result, artistic freedom is greatly reinforced to our great satisfaction.

We think that this will give political authorities and judges clear guidelines and ensure that artistic creation can continue to be seen by the widest audience.

The National Assembly adopted the Draft Law on September 29th. The next step is the examination of the law before the Senate. In the meantime the Observatory will continue its role as mediator and monitor of artistic expression.


Laurence Cuny is a member of The Observatory for the Protection of Artistic Freedom – Observatoire de la liberté de création – a platform of different French art organisations, unions and individuals advocating and defending artistic freedom. The Obervatory has been very active with the drafting of the law. She is also a member of the Arts Rights Justice Group and took part in the consultations for the 2012 UN Report on artistic freedom.



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