Willy Ronis v. Flower Seller
France might review a controversial photography law. IP looks back at one of the uglier episodes of its implementation.
In 1999, Willy Ronis was sued for a photograph he had taken in 1947; that year, while covering grand Parisian markets, he had took a photo of a young flower seller named Jacqueline in Les Halles. In 1984, Ronis and the flower seller came into contact again through a mutual friend. Ronis remembers, “she kissed me and gave me flowers and we became almost close friends.” For years, she had the photograph framed in her shop.
But in the 1990s, the French legislation changed, pronouncing “ownership of one’s image”. This law — which was also retrospective — is perhaps the most stringent privacy law ever enacted by any country. Manipulated by lawyers, as Ronis put it, the flowerseller successfully sued then 90-year-old photographer. Ronis was fined £2500, and his agency Rapho, somewhat more; although he could still show the photo in exhibitions, the court banned Ronis from reproducing the photography in print media, lest the copies end up in France. So precise was this non-dissemination clause that when the Guardian interviewed him, he could not allow it to reprint the photo in Britain, in case copies reached across the channel. 
After he lost the case, Ronis memorably said, “Cette décision tue la mémoire”. He, however, agreed with some aspects of the law, while reflecting on the nature of photography [I translated]:
It is to say that young people need to be more attentive to the consequences of their photos…. Yet in my life I have never made derogatory pictures of anyone. I’ve never had people in compromising situations. But people can now attack you if you did not asked for their permission. That this permission must be written authorization! If each time you take street photography, you will have to collect their authorizations with a ledger. No, that will be the end of the job!
I think the law will be modified because it is just too outrageous. Meanwhile, it is not just photographers who cannot rest easy, but also this country’s historical memory too. Photography matters in modern history.
 For this reason, Iconic Photos itself is not entirely sure whether the photo depicted above was the photo in question. If not, it must be a pretty similar innocuous picture.