‘Dance Steps on Broadway’ Lawsuit Ends with Photographer Paying Settlement

The legal battle between photographer Mike Hipple and sculptor Jack Mackie over a photo of Mackie’s public art piece “Dance Steps on Broadway” has ended with Hipple paying a settlement out of court. Mackie writes,

Anyone can make photographs of any public art and do most anything they want with the photograph. Private photos are most likely not infringements. People can frame them and give them to their uncles and aunts as gifts, they can post them on their facebook pages, or they can make Valentines with them and give them away. What they can not do, and this was the basis for the lawsuit, is offer to commercially sell them, which Mr. Hipple did, at least twice.

[…] The legal issues surrounding this case have always been clear and obvious. Instead of acceding to the clarity of the law, Mr. Hipple attempted numerous defenses. Mr. Hipple pleaded that because my art work is popular I should no longer be allowed to hold copyright. Tell that to Walt Disney. Mr. Hipple pleaded that one can not copyright public art. Tell that to the US Registrar of Copyrights. Mr. Hipple claimed that my art work is “instructional” and that his photograph “depicts dancing.” Taking him up on this argument we produced an image of his photograph containing my Dance Steps juxtaposed to an image of his carefully posed shoe model on a blank sidewalk [shown above]. Does his image without the Steps “depict dancing?” You decide.

Our initial post on this case in early 2010 sparked quite a bit of debate in the comments, with plenty of people arguing both sides.

  • Jim

    Seems to open a big can of worms. What about photogs who sell photos with Lincoln Memorial, Mount Rushmore, Statue of Liberty, Wall Street’s “Bear and Bull,” etc. as part of the subject matter? Does an architect hold copyright to images of buildings he designs? Can we no longer produce and sell photos because almost everything produced by a human is “copyrighted?” No more Eiffel Towers, or Golden Gate Bridges, or….? I understand a tree on a California golf course is copyrighted! Food for thought.

  • John Kantor

    Just another greedy “artist” hiding behind obsolete copyright law. I posted the new picture when I first read about this and I’ll post it again. It should be pretty clear that photos have no value once they have been released into the ether today – and the same goes for images of physical artwork. If you want to stop this absurdity, you’ll copy this image and make sure it’s distributed everywhere.

  • Phil Hoyt

    So I go to a public park. Where the city got a professional landscape artist to put in the trees and the flowers and all that jazz. I take a photo of it and attempt to sell it I could get sued because that guy put the trees in as his art?

  • Kevin McCoy

    You might be interested in — in the US, photographs of buildings are specifically granted an exemption from the architect’s copyright.  Also, copyright expires, so many of the examples you gave are in the public domain due to age.  And the Eiffel Tower is actually the subject of some controversy on this subject, as there is a claim of copyright on the lighting display on the tower at night.

  • slantyyz

    Yep, and you also can’t produce hand made pixel art based on a famous photo of Miles Davis. Right or wrong, that is the copyright world we all live in.

  • Photomaniac72391

    This article is old haha but whatever going to comment anyways. While i can see both their sides I feel like this “law” does get abused so much to the fact that photographers don’t think about things like that much and like someone else said so many people sell photos of things that were made by other peoples like monuments….personally though i think that photo sucks anyways haha. 

  • snapshot1

    I always love how much people complain about copyright laws when they want to steal work – until it’s their work being stolen. Shepard Fairey is the classic example.