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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas


Originally published on Photoblog by Gethin Thomas APRIL. 21, 2021

Imagine if nobody in the world had seen a photo of Big Ben, if every film of London they had seen, carefully avoided showing Big Ben. If there were no images online of Big Ben. If there were no photos of it in newspaper articles or movies shot in London.

This is pretty much what happened to the Atomium in Brussels. The Atomium seized and took control of the Brussels skyline and turned that view of the city into private property.

SABAM, Belgium's society for collecting copyrights, has claimed worldwide intellectual property rights on all reproductions of the image via the United States Artists Rights Society (ARS). For example, SABAM issued a demand that a United States website remove all images of the Atomium from its pages. The website responded by replacing all such images with a warning not to take photographs of the Atomium, and that A.S.B.L. Atomium will sue if you show them to anyone. SABAM confirmed that permission is required.

In the summer of 2015, Belgian political party Open Vld, proposed a bill to enable freedom of panorama in Belgium. The bill was enacted into law in June 2016, allowing pictures of the Atomium, and other public buildings under copyright, to be legally distributed.

It would have been illegal to distribute this photo of a railway station because look what is on the skyline.

From the Atomium's website, the current copyright restrictions exempt private individuals under the following conditions:

This is the case where photographs are taken by private individuals and shown on private websites for no commercial purpose (the current trend for photo albums).

The Atomium is a landmark building in Brussels (Belgium), originally constructed for the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair (Expo 58). It is located on the Heysel Plateau in Laeken, where the exhibition took place. It is now a museum.

Designed by the engineer André Waterkeyn and architects André and Jean Polak, it stands 102 metres (335 ft) tall. Its nine 18-metre-diameter (59 ft) stainless steel clad spheres are connected in the shape of a unit cell that could represent an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times. Tubes connecting the spheres enclose stairs, escalators and an elevator (in the central, vertical tube) to allow access to the five habitable spheres, which contain exhibit halls and other public spaces. The top sphere includes a restaurant which has a panoramic view of Brussels. The building was completely renovated between 2004 and 2006 by the companies Jacques Delens and BESIX.

Three of the four top spheres lack vertical support and hence are not open to the public for safety reasons, although the sphere at the pinnacle is open to the public. The original design called for no supports; the structure was simply to rest on the spheres. Wind tunnel tests proved that the structure would have toppled in an 80 km/h (50 mph) wind (140 km/h (90 mph) winds have been recorded in Belgium). Support columns were added to achieve enough resistance against overturning. Seen Below

The Atomium was built as the main pavilion and icon of the 1958 World Expo of Brussels (Expo 58). In the 1950s, faith in scientific progress was great, and a structure depicting atoms was chosen to embody this. The Atomium's nine 18-metre-diameter (59 ft) stainless steel clad spheres depict nine iron atoms in the shape of the body-centred cubic unit cell that could for example represent α-iron (ferrite) crystal, magnified 165 billion times.

The central tube contains the fastest elevator of the time with a speed of 5 m/s (20 ft/s), installed by the Belgian branch of the Swiss firm Schlieren (subsequently taken over by Schindler). It allows 22 people to reach the summit in 23 seconds. The escalators installed in the oblique tubes are among the longest in Europe. The biggest is 35 metres (100 ft) long.

Below you can see the interior of the tube through the glass ceiling of the elevator.

My favourite part of the building is the stairs and handrails, so reminiscent of the era in which they were designed.

The Atomium, designed to last six months, was not destined to survive the 1958 World Expo, but its popularity and success made it a major element of the Brussels landscape. Its destruction was therefore postponed year after year, until the city's authorities decided to keep it. However, for thirty years, little maintenance work was done.

By the turn of the millennium, the state of the building had deteriorated and a comprehensive renovation was sorely needed. Renovation of the Atomium, carried by Belgian construction companies Jacques Delens and BESIX, began in March 2004; it was closed to the public in October, and remained closed until 18 February 2006. The renovation included replacing the faded aluminium sheets on the spheres with stainless steel.

On 14 February 2006, the Atomium was officially reopened by then-Prince Philippe, and on 18 February 2006, it opened again to the public. The renovation cost €26 million. Brussels and the Atomium Association paid one-third of the costs, the Belgian government financed two thirds. To help pay for the renovation, pieces of the old aluminium plates were sold to the public as souvenirs. One triangular piece about 2 metres (7 ft) long sold for €1,000. On the occasion of the reopening, a 2 euro commemorative coin depicting the building was issued, in March 2006, to celebrate the renovation.

Notice. As far as I can see the situation is far from clear regarding copyright and this building so I want to state here that I am placing these photos here for no commercial gain as holiday photos taken for hobby purposes. I am placing them here in good faith believing that I own the copyright of the photo itself, based on international copyright law, and that due to the legal change mentioned above I am not transgressing any laws regarding images of The Atomium. I am happy to remove them at any time should I be requested to do so.

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