Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Copyright laws around the world

[A Sleeping Dog. . Gerrit Dou 1650]

I'm often asked about copyright on these pictures. I mainly work from old auction catalogues where the auction house claims copyright on the photographs of the paintings. Legally this is probably doubtful as they are reproducing the original painting, which is almost certainly out of copyright without adding anything ro it. The position is explained here:

This theory has been tested and proven in U.S. courts already: In Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corp., 36 F.Supp.2d 191 (S.D.N.Y. 1999), the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled that exact photographic copies of public domain images could not be covered by copyright because they lack originality. Even if accurate reproductions may require a great deal of skill, experience and effort, it is a process that lacks originality, a key element for copyrightability under U.S. law. The decision applies only to two-dimensional images such as paintings.

But it is fair to say that in some ways this is a grey area. Proceed with caution.


Margaret said...

I'm with you...I always do my best to find an image that is in the public domain (wikimedia, etc.), but if it's not possible, I just go with the "fair use" label (even for works that aren't yet in the public domain). After all, it's not like you're publishing an entire catalogue of someone's work! I know this sounds a little arrogant, but most of the time, if someone's still alive, I figure we are actually helping them out by republishing their images! (of course it's always best to ask, if you can).

Hermes said...

Thank you. I think for non-commercial sites like ours it is not that important but I was surprised how non-clear cut it all is.

Medieval Muse said...

I recently had my hand smacked on my blog about an artwork I featured, so I'm extra cautious now.

It is indeed a gray area and if I'm not mistaken, special provisions are made if the blog/site is for educational purposes - like most of ours are. It isn't as if any of us is attempting to duplicate catalogs or the like.